SPOKANE, Wash. -- A routine traffic stop turned into anything but on Tuesday afternoon after 41-year-old convicted felon Charles Wallace shot two Spokane County Sheriff's Deputies near Elm and Newport Highway, then led law enforcement on a high-speed chase through north Spokane County and into Deer Park, where he ultimately turned the gun on himself.
Spokane County Sheriff Deputy Matt Spink, 45, and Deputy Mike Northway, 42, continue to recover from their wounds at Sacred Heart Medical Center Wednesday. Deputy Spink took one bullet to the leg and is doing very well. Spokane County Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich said he's been in good spirits.
However, the road to recovery will be much longer for Deputy Northway. He was shot four times and was hit in both arms and both legs as the men approached Charles Wallace's SUV on Tuesday. Knezovich said the most serious injury is to his left arm, where three inches of his artery was blown away.
Twenty-four hours after the shootout, KHQ learned new details about the shooter's extensive criminal history. In April, federal prosecutors alleged that Wallace conspired to distribute at least 100 grams of heroin. Wallace had been in the custody of U.S. Marshals until a judge decided to let him out on his own recognizance.
The question is why?
On May 31, 2012, U.S. District Court Magistrate Judge Cynthia Imbrogno let Charles Wallace out of jail, without bond, so that he could go to an in-patient drug treatment program, according to court documents. Judge Imbrogno also ruled U.S. prosecutors did not prove Wallace was a flight risk or a danger to the community.
Wallace was out of jail on his own recognizance and was therefore not escorted by Federal Marshals to that drug treatment facility, despite the fact that the ruling was court-ordered, according to officials. However, Knezovich confirmed on Wednesday that Wallace walked out of the Spokane County Jail on May 31 and never showed up to that drug treatment facility.
"I don't it's a good idea to release anybody to a drug rehab when he's facing those kind of charges," Knezovich said during a press conference.
Wallace had been a fugitive ever since.
About three weeks later, on Monday of this week, Wallace was scheduled for a federal court hearing, which he skipped out on.
The Sheriff said law enforcement had been watching Wallace and wanted to bring him back in to custody, which is why the Sheriff said the deputies pulled Wallace over the next day. That's when Wallace opened fire on Spink and Northway during what investigators described as a routine traffic stop.
"Mr. Wallace put this entire community in extreme risk," Knezovich continued. "Why was he still on the streets of Spokane?"
Wallace's run-ins with the law began as early as grade school and continued into his teens, according to Wallace's family. Before Tuesday's officer-involved shooting, Wallace was already a 15-time convicted felon. Wallace was convicted of three drug-related felonies, escape, forgery, attempt to elude, possession, burglary, theft, and possession of stolen property. He also had four gross misdemeanor convictions with three counts of driving under the influence.
To cap it all off, Wallace was recently indicted in an alleged conspiracy to distribute 100 grams, or more, of heroin. Wallace was arrested in April on those charges because prosecutors believed he was connected to a heroin distribution ring which they believe trafficked heroin across eastern Washington.
Wednesday, new unsealed documents show Wallace was indicted on five new counts of heroin trafficking. The latest indictment, which includes 17 counts and several other alleged accomplices, show investigators had been tracking Wallace and his ties to a heroin ring for nearly a year. The new documents also charge Wallace with being a felon in possession of a firearm. Agents described Wallace as armed with a shotgun and pistol when he was arrested two months ago in connection with the initial indictments. U.S. Prosecutors allege the people named in the indictment moved major amounts of heroin through eastern Washington.
If convicted, Wallace could have spent the rest of his life in prison.
With that extensive criminal history in mind, KHQ asked the Sheriff today if he felt Wallace's actions suggested he was trying to commit suicide by police.
"His actions appear to be he was trying to get out of there, trying to get away," Knezovich said. "He didn't want to go back to prison. That was very clear. He was facing a very long sentence."
For input on this case, KHQ contacted Judge Imbrogno's chambers but was told she could not speak to the media under a Code of Judicial Conduct for Federal Law Judges. KHQ also called the U.S. Federal Marshal's office for more insight but messages were not immediately returned.
Court documents also show that U.S. Prosecutors strongly opposed releasing Wallace to that in-patient drug treatment facility.
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