Washington state initiative would change law on police use of deadly force
Bellingham Police officers and Whatcom County Sheriff’s deputies used “both objective and subjective good faith” in their decision to shoot and wound a man who reportedly fired arrows at them using a crossbow after threatening other citizens with a machete last December in the Arroyo Park trail area, Whatcom County Prosecutor Eric Richey determined.
Richey reviewed the documents and evidence compiled in an independent investigation by the Ferndale Police Department and released his findings in a statement Friday, saying that the officers and deputies met requirements approved by voters under Initiative 940.
“In this case, officers were discharging their duties when they were searching for a suspect who was threatening people with a machete, a possible felony offense,” Richey wrote. “When officers encountered the suspect, he had just shot an arrow at them and was holding a crossbow and appeared to be attempting to get a better shot at them. He refused to comply with officer’s commands. Officers believed they were in imminent danger of being seriously harmed when they shot at the suspect.”
Micah James Godfrey, a 46-year-old man from California, was booked into Whatcom County Jail on Dec. 23, according to jail records, and remains in jail in lieu of $500,000 bail. Court records show he has been charged with four counts of second-degree assault.
Godfrey has been declared not competent to stand trial and is expected to go to Western State Hospital, the state’s largest psychiatric facility, for competency restoration, according to court documents.
As previously reported in The Bellingham Herald, authorities 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 reported a man chasing at least one person with a machete.
Three law enforcement officers from the Bellingham Police and Whatcom County Sheriff’s Office responded to the call and helped search for Godfrey, who allegedly shot at the officers with a crossbow at about 2:55 p.m. as they approached him in his camp in a canyon in the woods of Arroyo Park.
According to Richey’s report, officers and deputies could see Godfrey shifting and moving behind a log, and he refused their repeated instructions to drop the crossbow, show his hands and come out because he was under arrest. Godfrey also was warned by officers that if he didn’t comply he would be shot.
“Officers could see the suspect continue to move as if to get a better shot,” Richey wrote, “Officers feared that they were about to be shot or killed by an arrow. Based on the terrain and threat, a less-than-lethal bean bag round did not appear to be an option. Two officers fired a total of four shots at the suspect using agency-issued handguns. A bullet struck the suspect in the hip.
“At that point, the suspect complied with officer commands. The suspect was cuffed, searched for additional weapons and provided first-aid in the field before being taken to the hospital for relatively minor injuries.”
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.