Review finds Bellingham police acted appropriately in shooting, video footage released

Bellingham police officers involved in a deadly force incident in late December 2018 at Arroyo Park where they shot an oncoming suspect acted appropriately, according to a City of Bellingham press release sent out Monday.

An administrative review board determined Bellingham Police Officers Brown and Chissus “acted within the scope of the established policies and procedures of the Bellingham Police Department,” the release states.

Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies were also involved in the Arroyo Park incident. An administrative review conducted by the sheriff’s office into the incident also determined the deputies acted appropriately, as previously reported in The Bellingham Herald.

The deadly force incident was investigated by another agency as part of an interlocal agreement known as Law Enforcement Mutual Assistance Response Team, or LEMART, the release states. That investigation was then referred to Whatcom County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Richey for review.

In March, 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 incident. 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.

Bellingham police’s administrative review, which was conducted after Richey’s finding, determined the officers involved acted within department policy, the release states.

Bellingham Police Department bodycam footage shows the search for and arrest of a machete-wielding man in Arroyo Park in Bellingham on Dec. 23, 2018. Bellingham Police Department Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

“I thank the Ferndale Police Department for their thorough investigation, the Washington State Patrol forensics unit who assisted in processing the scene, the community for their continued support and ultimately our law enforcement personnel who risk their lives daily — as experienced in this event — to keep our community safe,” Bellingham Police Chief David Doll said in a prepared statement.

Bellingham Police also released body camera footage of the incident at Arroyo Park.

The sheriff’s office also conducted an administrative review 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.

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.

The sheriff’s office was also involved in a separate deadly force incident on Dec. 28, where a deputy shot at a suspect. The suspect was not hit and the deputy was determined to have acted appropriately.

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.