By Pat Jenkins
A federal judge has ruled that a Pierce County Sheriff Department deputy acted in self-defense and did nothing wrong in fatally shooting a wanted felon who was "on drugs" and dangerous when he sprayed two officers with a chemical normally used on bears.
The ruling was a defeat for relatives of Michael Lee Bourquin, 21. They sued the county for $20 million in damages, alleging unconstitutional excessive force caused his death.
U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Leighton dismissed claims that also targeted deputy Chad Helligso in the 2014 shooting that occurred on a Spanaway roadside.
Leighton's pretrial ruling that the deputy was justified in using deadly force ended a two-year battle between Pierce County and the estate of Bourquin, and also backed the same finding of investigations of the incident by the Sheriff Department and the county's medical examiner and prosecutor's office.
In his decision, Leighton cited authorities' accounts of events they said led up to the shooting.
“Michael Bourquin, a suspect wanted on felony warrants, implicated in a murder, and a known associate of a person who had taken a death threat on the two officers (involved in the shooting), openly sprayed officers directly in the face with bear pepper spray during a traffic stop,” Leighton said. “As a result, officers were left blinded, defenseless, gasping for breath, and were forced to use deadly force in order to save their lives.”
Helligso shot Bourquin in the morning of Feb. 1, 2014, in the Spanaway area after Helliaso and deputy Chris Olson pulled over a pickup truck. Bourquin, a passenger in the truck, had several felony warrants for his arrest and was a person of interest in connection with an unsolved homicide.
When the deputies asked Bourquin to step out of the truck, he
refused and reached for something, authorities said. Helligso pulled Bourquin from the truck, and during a struggle, Bourquin dropped a fixed-blade knife on the ground. He then sprayed Olson and Helligso in their faces with bear mace, a form of pepper spray used for protection from bears, authorities said.
Though temporarily blinded by the spray, Helligso drew his service handgun and fired seven shots at Bourquin. He died at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds, according to the medical examiner.
Authorities said toxicology reports from an autopsy on Bourquin showed
he had methamphetamine and amphetamine in his system at the time of his
Four months after the shooting, Prosecuting Attorney Mark Lindquist concluded it was justifiable homicide under state law.
“Bourquin, who was on drugs and assaulted the officers with mace, posed a serious danger,” Lindquist said. “The deputy protected himself and his fellow officer.”
The lawsuit filed by Borquin's estate March 20, 2015 was "baseless” and brought a "vigorous defense" by the county, Lindquist said.
Judge Leighton, concluding that Bourquin posed an immediate threat to the officers, said he dismissed the lawsuit on June 29 because “no reasonable juror can conclude otherwise.”