By Pat Jenkins
Pierce County Sheriff Department deputies acted lawfully when they fatally shot a man nearly 30 times after he threatened them with a chainsaw at his parents' home in Graham.
That's the conclusion of the county's top prosecutor after a review of the shooting that occurred last summer.
Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist said independent and concurrent investigations were conducted by his office, the Sheriff Department and the Pierce County medical in the shooting death of Justin Christopher Baker, 36. Baker died from multiple gunshot wounds, several of which could have been the fatal one, according to the medical examiner.
Authorities said that before the five deputies – David Sutherland, Brian Coburn, Robert Blumenschine, Roger Fuller and Chad Helligso – shot Baker, he advanced on them with a running chainsaw. They also were warned in advance by his father that he’d been using drugs, and tests after Baker’s death showed he had high, potentially fatal levels of methamphetamine in his body.
"This is an unfortunate example of suicide-by-cop,” Prosecutor Lindquist said. “It’s also an example of what methamphetamine can do to a person’s mental and emotional stability.
In support of his conclusion – as announced Jan. 9 – that the deputies acted lawfully, Lindquist gave this account of the shooting:
In the early morning of Aug. 30, 2016, Baker showed up unexpectedly and uninvited at his parents’ residence in Graham. He was wielding a running chainsaw and threatening to enter the house, kill himself with the chainsaw, and attack the deputies when they showed up. The father also reported that Baker wanted officers to kill him, and that Baker had a history of drug use.
Deputies had that information when they arrived and confronted Baker while he was holding and revving the chainsaw’s motor in a threatening manner toward them. They pointed their firearms at Baker while ordering him to put the chainsaw on the ground and move away from it. Baker continued holding the chainsaw out toward the deputies and revving it.
One deputy fired a taser, hitting Baker but failing to stop him. He charged the deputies with the running chainsaw, and the deputies shot and killed him.
The medical examiner, Dr. Thomas Clark, reported that while Baker died of gunshot wounds, a toxicology study showed that the quantity of methamphetamine and amphetamines in Baker’s system was potentially fatal.