Officials: shooting was justified; prosecutor, coroner say deputies were forced to shoot
(WHITMAN COUNTY, Maine) --The shooting death of a Clarkston man by authorities Dec. 7 has been ruled a justifiable homicide and no criminal charges will be filed.
But the brother of the victim said Friday family members are "exploring" the option of filing a wrongful death suit in civil court.
Chester Eugene Hunt, 26, died of a single gunshot wound to the chest after three sheriff's deputies fired at least 12 rounds. An investigation report made public Friday contends Hunt brandished a loaded handgun, but did not fire.
"He pointed it in a threatening manner," Whitman County Prosecutor Jim Kaufman said Friday.
He and Coroner Pete Martin issued a joint news release disclosing details of the incident and their determination that the shooting was justified, especially since Hunt had threatened to "shoot a cop."
But Henry Hunt of Lewiston, Chester's brother, said he was at the shooting scene south of Pullman and never heard his brother threaten police. Asked if he saw Chester Hunt point a weapon at authorities, Henry Hunt declined comment. He said the family has hired an attorney.
According to Kaufman, the investigation by the Spokane County Sheriff's Office and Spokane Police Department shows that Chester Hunt was struck with just one of approximately a dozen shots fired. The lethal bullet came from a rifle fired by Whitman County Deputy Paul Reavis. He and Deputy Rick McNannay, had been positioned on a hill above where Chester Hunt was sitting in his pickup truck. Sgt. Patrick Kelley also was at the scene, along with a large number of other officers.
The standoff began after Henry Hunt notified authorities in the early evening that his brother was suicidal, armed with two handguns and driving north on U.S. Highway 195 in a green and silver Chevrolet pickup truck. Authorities located Chester Hunt in the truck a short time later at the intersection of Johnson Road.
At one point, Chester Hunt attempted to drive away, only to have authorities fire several shots at tires and bring the truck to a halt. Despite repeated requests for him to drop his weapon and give up, Chester Hunt refused, according to Kaufman, and eventually exited the truck cab to climb into the bed.
"He pointed the loaded gun in a threatening manner," said Kaufman. He said deputies Kelley, McNannay and Reavis fired "simultaneously or close thereto."
Chester Hunt, after being hit, was given emergency care, taken to Lewiston's St. Joseph Regional Medical Center and later died of the single wound.
"Why so many shots from 25 yards?" Henry Hunt asked Friday after receiving word of the investigation report. He also questioned why it took almost two months to announce what he always knew -- that Chester Hunt never fired his gun.
Whitman County Sheriff Steve Tomson has said deputies are trained to respond to the threat of deadly force by firing to center of mass. Kaufman said Reavis fired just one round, while Kelley appears to have fired about eight and McNannay four.
"As far as the coroner and I are concerned, (the incident) has been laid to rest," Kaufman said.
"Chester Hunt's actions presented a clear and present danger to the officers at the scene and their use of deadly force was reasonable and legal," Kaufman and Martin wrote in their announcement. "The conclusion is based upon a thorough review of the investigation."
In addition to what happened at the time of the shooting, the investigation also revealed that Chester Hunt had been experiencing financial and personal problems, was taking an antidepressant and was under the influence of alcohol. He also left a suicide note in the truck.
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