Tuesday, September 2, 2014

"Nobody Ever Points A Gun At Them..."

(It's a line from the 2008 movie, "Battle In Seattle")

Takin' care of business, Seattle PD

For the last couple of days, I've been puzzling over a police killing in Seattle. Stephen Johnston of 314 W. Prospect St, in the Queen Anne district, was "fatally wounded" by police riflemen on August 31. He had purchased his historic home about a year previously for some $2.2 million. He was, one suspects, one of "those people" who never get a police gun pointed at them.

Who was he, and what happened?

I'm not at all sure.

The stories in the media are murky at best. Claims have been made that the police had been called to the home the day before the ultimate shooting, but the reason is somewhat obscure. There was a 911 call, apparently from Johnston, on Friday. Police arrived, found the front door wide open and inspected the home -- which they said was "trashed". They didn't find Johnston or anyone else. They left.

That night, they went back to the house to arrest Johnston for making threats to kill his wife -- who was said to be in eastern Washington at the time. But they did not find him. Saturday, they received a 911 call that shots were being fired in the neighborhood. The caller is not known. Was it Johnston?

Upon returning to the neighborhood, police brought snipers with them.

Johnston apparently appeared on his front porch, armed with an AK-47, and started firing at officers (according to them, at any rate-- this story later changed to say that police didn't know what or who Johnston was firing at). Two police snipers fired at Johnston, wounding him. He retreated -- crawling -- back into the house. Police ordered him to come out, but he didn't. They sent a robot in. The robot espied his corpse on the floor. Police entered and found Johnston's dead body, his arsenal of weapons near the front door and a bulletproof vest.

The end. All of this from amalgamated stories in the Seattle media.

The media reports don't add up. Not yet.

Who Stephen Johnson was and how he got his money is the main mystery at the moment.

The fact that he was shot by police from across the street is interesting because of the terrain. How they ever got a shot at him at all is a question given that the house is on a rise and the house across the street is well below it. There are plenty of trees and shrubs in the way as well. The fact that he was shot at all is even more interesting. A rich, middle aged white man would be very unlikely to be shot by police, even if armed, and potentially even if firing.

But it happened in Seattle.

Naturally, neighbors -- while disturbed by the hoo-hah of it all -- feel it was a justified reaction by police. What else could they do?

Johnston's family is said to have returned to the house on Sunday but declined to be interviewed.

There is a story here. I wonder if we will ever see or hear it?

A few news reports in no particular order:







This is the listing for the house that the Johnstons bought last year for $2.something million. This is not the kind of place that your average summary execution target lives in by any means. So this case remains an outlier, a peculiarity, a question mark. Who was he, really? And why did the police head out there for the third time with snipers prepared to kill on command? If we can find out the answers to these and other questions about this case, we may be able to comprehend why it is that so many, many ordinary people, not rich or necessarily white, are summarily executed by police every month. A hundred a month.



  1. You are correct, the media reports did not add up following the shooting of Stephen Johnston. I happen to know some of Stephen’ family. They are extremely upset by the greatly flawed reporting about Stephen, who he was, and what led up to the police shooting him on August 31st, 2014. They not only have the grief of losing someone they loved in a horrible way, but they also have the grief of knowing that the media will never come back and correct their assumptions, or clarify the truth of what happened that day.

    From what I have been told by members of the family:

    * Stephen had a problem with anxiety over many years. It caused him to stop activities that he dearly loved, like scuba diving.

    * He was an amiable man, very successful professionally, and a great dive buddy.

    * He drank quite a lot at social gatherings, but it was not a problem.

    * In the few months prior to the shooting incident, the seafood company that Stephen worked for was having serious financial issues. This caused him horrible stress and anxiety.

    * At some point - I don't know when in the chronology of things - Stephen abruptly stopped taking his medication (Cymbalta), which is used to treat depression and anxiety. His family was aware that he began to deteriorate, and they were very concerned about him. For example, he had begun leaving odd, inexplicable phone messages for people. However, he had never before behaved in the extreme ways that he did later drawing up to the time of the shooting.

    * Four days prior to the shooting, Stephen's behavior was observed by family to be very strange and alarming. There were extreme behaviors like raging at family members, telling one child they did not belong there and should leave, threatening his wife, and throwing and breaking things around the house.

    * Stephen evidently did not sleep for 2 to 3 days prior to the fatal events of August 31st. He stayed up and kept drinking scotch. It was during this time on August 30th that he threatened his wife. She escaped to some relatives and they moved her to a safe distance over the Cascade Mountains.

    * Stephen was not attempting suicide by cop as was conjectured by the police and reported by the press. He would not have created defensive positions in the house from which to fight some feared intruders if he had wanted to die. He was paranoid certainly, and doing what he thought he needed to do to survive. He may have been so mentally ill and/or drunk that he was hallucinating and fighting “ghosts” that no one else could see. We don’t know what he was shooting at outside – if anything - before the police were called. And we don’t know if he was actually shooting at the police once they were there. Certainly Stephen’s behavior was a serious threat regardless of what he was seeing, thinking or feeling. The police had to take extreme measures to stop Stephen as quickly as possible to protect everyone – police, neighbors, people at the park at the end of the block… I wish they could have used tranquilizer darts or something else non-lethal, and then gotten Stephen into the hospital.

    * The last I heard the coroner was doing tests for everything from alcohol, illicit drugs, medications, chemical imbalances, etc. The coroner was also looking for physical signs of mental illness or some disease/disorder that would account for Stephen’s extreme behaviors. I do not know what came out of the coroner’s examinations.

    Stephen is greatly missed by his family and friends. He was an affable man and incredibly successful professionally. He always spoke of his wife with love and admiration. Whatever happened within him in the months leading up to his death, Stephen behaved in ways that made no sense to friends and family. He changed before their eyes in ways they could not understand or reconcile with the man they had known up to that point. This is such a tragedy for everyone who knew Stephen, and who have been so dismayed by the unenlightened, misleading coverage of Stephen’s death.

    1. Thanks so much for this extraordinary story of Stephen Johnston's situation prior to his death. As sketchy as the media reports were -- and as confused and confusing -- there were hints that what you and his family describe was what was happening. The deployment of snipers was simply wrong under the circumstances.

      Thanks again for sharing. My condolences to Stephen Johnston's family.