Prosecutor: Bellingham police were justified in returning fire at Villa Inn shooter

Two Bellingham police officers were justified in returning fire on a mentally unstable man in a Samish Way motel room last month, the county prosecutor announced Thursday afternoon, Sept. 19.

Officers Chris Johnston and Steven Moyer responded to Room 22 of the Villa Inn on the evening of Aug. 26, to pick up Alex Warren Johnson, 54, for an emergency mental health hold. Johnson had acted “extremely violent and threatening” toward a mental health worker who tried to give him his medication, according to a statement released Thursday by Prosecutor Dave McEachran.

Johnson’s roommate let the police into the room. According to charging papers, Johnson stood behind a sheet hanging in the bathroom doorway. His head poked out but he refused to show his hands. Then he swung open the sheet and fired a 12-gauge pump shotgun - “at point blank range” - that missed both officers, according to the prosecutor’s office.

The blast shattered the room’s front window. Police returned fire. They kept shooting through the walls when Johnson retreated to the bathroom.

Johnson survived several bullet wounds. After several weeks in St. Joseph hospital, he made his first appearance in court this week on charges of two counts of first-degree assault while armed with a firearm and one count of felon in possession of firearm. A background check showed he’d been convicted of burglary, a felony, in 1981.

“This was an extremely dangerous situation for the officers involved and highlights some of the dangers that our officers are experiencing in our community,” McEachran wrote. “The officers acted appropriately and as they were trained in dealing with life-threatening situations.”

Bail has been set at $1 million. He’s scheduled for arraignment Friday.

Reach Caleb Hutton at 360-715-2276 or Follow him on Twitter at @bhamcaleb.