Sheriff’s office determines deputies acted appropriately in December shootings

Listen to 911 calls about a man with a machete at a Bellingham park

Bellingham police officers shot and wounded a 46-year-old California man accused of threatening people with a machete and then firing a crossbow at law enforcement as they approached him in Arroyo Park on Dec. 23, 2018.
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Bellingham police officers shot and wounded a 46-year-old California man accused of threatening people with a machete and then firing a crossbow at law enforcement as they approached him in Arroyo Park on Dec. 23, 2018.

Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies involved in two separate deadly force incidents in late December 2018 where they shot at oncoming suspects — injuring one — acted appropriately, according to a press release from Whatcom County Undersheriff Jeff Parks.

Administrative reviews conducted by the sheriff’s office into the two separate incidents determined the deputies “acted appropriately in the use of deadly force and in full compliance with our regulations, policies, procedures and training,” the release states.

Both incidents were investigated by other agencies as part of an interlocal agreement known as Law Enforcement Mutual Assistance Response Team, or LEMART, the release states. Those investigations were then referred to Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey for review.

In March and April, Richey determined that all officers involved used “both objective and subjective good faith” in their decisions to fire their service weapons, according to statements from Richey earlier this year on the incidents. Richey determined the deputies and officers involved met requirements approved by voters under Initiative 940.

I-940 was passed by Washington voters in November, redefining laws about police who use deadly force in the line of duty. The initiative, according to Richey’s letter, “adopted a good faith standard in order for a law enforcement officer to avoid criminal liability when using deadly force,” whether the person was hit by a bullet or not.

The sheriff’s office also conducted administrative reviews of the incidents and actions taken by the deputies involved and determined the deputies were justified in their use of deadly force, the release states.

Whatcom County Sheriff Bill Elfo reviewed and approved the findings.

“The deputies actions in both matters comported with law and policy,” Elfo said in a prepared statement.

The deputies were each out for about a week, “which is pretty standard as a starting point to decompress from that type of incident,” Parks said in an email to The Herald Friday afternoon.

Parks said the deputies don’t return to work until they’re ready and they have the option to seek support or counseling, which is made available by the department if they request it. Parks said they check in with them regularly and offer a voluntary debriefing session. The department can mandate those things if need be, he said. That was not needed with these cases, he said.

The deputies did have to go through a mandatory qualification course at the firing range before going back on patrol to make sure they’re comfortable “and good to go,” Parks said.

“The admin review did not result in any corrective action or discipline of any kind as there were no issues regarding their decisions or performance. In fact, they both did an outstanding job given the circumstances, and fortunately no deaths occurred,” Parks said.

As previously reported by The Herald, on Dec. 23, deputies responded to the Arroyo Park area near the Interurban Trail, just east of where the trail crosses Old Samish Way near Chuckanut Drive after 911 calls about a man chasing at least one person with a machete.

Officers with the Bellingham Police Department and a canine handler with the sheriff’s office responded to the call and began searching for the man, later identified as Micah James Godfrey, 46, of California.

Godfrey allegedly shot a crossbow at the responding officers as they approached him in his camp in a canyon in the woods of Arroyo Park, according to Whatcom County Superior Court records. Deputies could see Godfrey shifting and moving behind a log to “get a better shot” and he allegedly refused repeated requests to drop the crossbow, show his hands and come out, the records state. Godfrey was also warned he would be shot if he didn’t comply, court records state.

One Bellingham Police officer and the sheriff’s canine deputy shot Godfrey, the records state. A total of four rounds were fired, and Godfrey was hit in the hip, court records state.

Godfrey received first aid on the scene and was taken to St. Joseph hospital where he was treated and released into custody.

Godfrey is charged with five counts of second-degree assault while armed with a deadly weapon. He has been determined not competent to stand trial and is currently receiving competency restoration services at Eastern State Hospital, a state psychiatric facility southwest of Spokane.

Washington voters will decide Nov. 6 on Initiative 940, which would change the state's law on police use of deadly forc4e and require more training for officers. The initiative comes after several high-profile police shooting in the state.

On Dec. 28, a different canine handler with the sheriff’s office shot at a fleeing suspect, as previously reported by The Herald.

A man, later identified as William David Jefferson Jr., 35, of Bellingham, was allegedly running through yards and into a residence in the 2600 block of West Maplewood Avenue, according to the sheriff’s office press release. A canine handler responded to assist the Bellingham Police Department, the release states.

Jefferson was found on the 3900 block of Northwest Avenue, but started running away from the deputy, according to the release. The deputy pursued Jefferson, but Jefferson turned around and charged toward the deputy while reaching for his waistband, the release states.

The deputy fired one shot, but it did not hit Jefferson, according to the release. Jefferson became compliant and was arrested, the release states.

Jefferson was part of a drug offender sentencing alternative program at the time of the offense, according to court records. Jefferson had a competency hearing April 11, but records from the hearing weren’t immediately available.

The sheriff’s office determined that both uses of deadly force by the two deputies were appropriate and justified under the circumstances.

“These incidents highlight the dangerous job that our deputies and officers do on a daily basis and can require split-second decisions and that unexpected dangerous actions and assaults can occur against our deputies and officers at any time,” Parks wrote in the release. “They are well trained and prepared to protect the public as well as themselves should the circumstances require. We commend them for their courage and commitment to serving the public and keeping our communities safe.”

Reporter Denver Pratt joined The Bellingham Herald in 2017 and covers courts and criminal and social justice. She has worked in Montana, Florida and Virginia.