Police: Less lethal tools banned by new Wash. law would have resolved 3-hour standoff sooner

Two officers and a K-9 suffered minor injuries during the arrest

By Hayley Day
The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

COWLITZ COUNTY, Wash. — The Lower Columbia SWAT team was not able to use certain nonlethal tactics to detain a suspect Wednesday afternoon due to a new state law that bars law enforcement's use of large-caliber weapons. Two officers and a police dog were mildly injured during the arrest.

The man was detained about 1:30 p.m. on suspicion of second-degree assault, said Cowlitz County Sheriff's Office Chief Criminal Deputy Troy Brightbill. The man's name has not yet been released.

SWAT members could not shoot pepper spray, rubber bullets or bean bags toward the armed suspect in the 2000 block of 46th Avenue near Longview. Instead, they tried on-the-spot nonlethal methods such as knocking out windows with rocks in the hopes of throwing tear gas canisters inside to force the man to leave the house without being physically removed.

Officers broke windows, but couldn't reach the man's location with a gas canister, Brightbill said. Instead, the team entered with a search warrant and two officers and a department K-9 were mildly injured during the arrest. Brightbill said the man bit an officer, used his fingers to try to gouge out an officer's eyes and used a cue stick to hit a police dog. Brightbill said officers were treated at the scene and did not have information on the dog's well-being.

The SWAT team was called because there was a report of a suspect making threats with a knife around 11 a.m. Wednesday, about an hour after the original 911 call. The SWAT team has additional training and tools to handle barricaded armed suspects. The team has a launcher with a 40mm barrel that shoots rubber bullets and pepper spray which was used in these situations before the new law took affect July 25, Brightbill said. Another launcher shoots bean bags and also cannot be used.

Using those tools Wednesday could have created a quicker, safer arrest, Brightbill said.

"Had we had the tools we had two weeks ago, it could have gone far differently," he said.

House Bill 1054 prevents police from using military-style weapons, such as machine guns and grenades, but also prevents using "firearms and ammunition of .50 caliber or greater," which local law enforcement and many agencies across the state believe take large barreled nonlethal weapons off the table.

When Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee signed HB 1054 and another 11 new police reform bills into law last spring, he said the legislation was a "moral mandate" to acknowledge societal inequalities visualized when two black men — George Floyd in Minnesota and Manny Ellis in Tacoma — were killed by officers in 2020.

Deploying the nonlethal weapons is safer for officers and suspects because it creates distance said Longview Police Captain Branden McNew. The 40mm launcher can shoot up to 40 yards away, which prevents one-on-one contact with barricaded armed suspects.

"The most dangerous thing for a suspect and policeman is to go in and get him," he said.

This story has been updated to state a 40mm launcher can shoot up to 40 yards away.

READ: Washington’s new laws tie the hands of law enforcement officers

(c)2021 The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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