Crime

Bellingham police release videos of deadly cop-involved shooting; suspect and officer identified

A Whatcom County man who pulled a knife on a Bellingham police officer last year has been identified as the stabbing suspect shot and killed by police over the weekend.

Police believe Manuel Gonzalez, 28, stabbed a man in the neck on East Holly Street during a fight around 4:20 p.m. Sunday. Witnesses chased him a block north, as he lugged an overstuffed black plastic bag toward the downtown bus station.

A Bellingham police officer, Jeremiah Leland, confronted Gonzalez outside of Everyday Music, 115 E. Magnolia St., where he refused commands to drop the weapon, police said. Instead he charged at the officer, according to police.

On Thursday the department released four videos of the incident: two from citizens, one from a traffic camera, and one from Leland’s body-worn camera. Several angles show Leland stopping his patrol vehicle right in front of Gonzalez and others who had been fighting him. On the body camera, the officer opens his driver’s side door at the 25-second mark. He draws his gun within two seconds. Gonzalez flails his arms, and moves closer to the officer.

“Don’t step any closer, I’ll kill you!” Leland shouts. “Drop the knife!”

A citizen’s video captures Gonzalez’s answer clearly. He yells at the officer to shoot him.

Ten seconds after arriving, Leland fires four shots from his department-issued handgun. No other officers fired.

The traffic camera shows Leland backing away, but Gonzalez rushes at him, and in that split-second he’s shot. They’re about the width of a parking space apart.

“Code 3, shots fired, Code 3,” Leland says.

One backup officer arrives in five seconds. Another runs into view 10 seconds later. Officers tell Gonzalez to put his hands out, “like an airplane,” so that they can be sure he’s not armed. Gonzalez groans.

“Put your hands out like an airplane, bud!” Leland says. “We want to help you, but you need to put your hands out before we can come up!”

Police wait about a minute, and then an officer runs up to handcuff him.

Bellingham patrol officers wear Taser-brand cameras that capture audio and video when police hit “record,” and silent video of the preceding 30 seconds.

Dr. Gary Goldfogel, the Whatcom County medical examiner, said an autopsy showed three out of four rounds struck Gonzalez, in the neck and chest. The lethal round traveled downward through the neck, into the chest, causing massive internal and external bleeding. Three bullets were recovered from the body. Goldfogel said the shots were fired from a distance, “over several feet.”

Gonzalez bled to death at the scene.

“Although this is a tragic incident for our community and everyone involved, we are grateful that Officer Leland was not injured during the attack,” Bellingham Police Chief Cliff Cook said in a statement. “While we are still trying to locate Mr. Gonzalez’s next of kin, we will extend our condolences to his family.”

Officer Leland joined the Bellingham Police Department three years ago. Police identified him when they released the videos Thursday.

The 20-year-old man who was stabbed continued to recover at St. Joseph hospital this week. His condition improved from serious to satisfactory by Tuesday, when a detective was able to interview him. On Thursday police said “his prognosis is good.”

Gonzalez

Gonzalez’s recent history with local police is well documented in public records. Last year he threatened a Bellingham traffic cop with a folding knife when he was detained for shoplifting coconut water from Grocery Outlet, 1600 Ellis St.

Officer Henry Ortega had pulled over his police motorcycle around 9:50 a.m. March 3, 2016, when he saw Gonzalez leaning against a building a block from the grocery store. He fit the shoplifter’s description. Once Ortega got close, Gonzalez reacted as if he might fight or run, police said at the time. So Ortega ordered him to face away with his hands behind his back. Gonzalez faced away, and moved his hand to the buckle of his pants. He pulled out a black-and-camouflage knife, and spun around in an “attack position,” charging papers say.

Ortega held Gonzalez at gunpoint and ordered him to drop the knife. He did, eventually, tossing it into the street.

Gonzalez pleaded guilty to second-degree assault. Charges of possessing meth were dropped. Court records say he had no known prior record. At a sentencing hearing, a judge told him because of the felony, he could no longer have guns.

“Yeah, but everybody has knives,” Gonzalez told Judge Ira Uhrig.

The judge reiterated that it was a ban on guns, not knives.

Gonzalez was released from jail Sept. 20. Court documents list his address as a Canadian-owned farm northeast of Lynden. More recent police records say he lived at the Lighthouse Mission on Holly.

Over a three-day period in early November, Bellingham police cited Gonzalez for misdemeanors in four separate cases: thefts, criminal trespassing, and assault. Officers took him to jail a few weeks later on warrants for missing court dates, outside of the Community Food Co-op on East Holly Street.

Gonzalez had no photo identification on him Sunday. The medical examiner verified his identity through fingerprints. A sheriff’s detective traveled to Texas in search of a family member to notify, but could not find next of kin this week. Gonzalez’s body was released to a local funeral home.

Police didn’t confirm his name to the media until late Thursday afternoon.

The Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office is leading the investigation of the shooting. All public information, however, has been released through the Bellingham Police Department, an arrangement that’s within the guidelines of the county’s Law Enforcement Multi-Agency Response Team, or LEMART, said Sheriff Bill Elfo.

City police are in charge of investigating the stabbing. A citizen video released by police shows someone in a blue coat shouting at Gonzalez on Holly Street. A man with a skateboard walks up to Gonzalez from behind. Almost face-to-face, he says something to Gonzalez, who reacts by swinging at his neck.

The man grabs his throat. He remains standing. Gonzalez runs off.

Police haven’t explained what led up to that incident.

Caleb Hutton: 360-715-2276, @bhamcaleb

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