By Jessie Faulkner
EUREKA- Big Bar resident Jonni Kiyoshi Honda, 51, died in a police shooting late Friday night after failing to respond to orders and threatening an unarmed officer with a handgun during a standoff at the Super 8 Motel on N Street.
Humboldt County Coroner Frank Jager confirmed Saturday that Honda died of multiple gunshot wounds. An autopsy is set for Wednesday in Redding.
Mental Health personnel arrived at the scene around 4 a.m. Friday and negotiated with Honda throughout the day and into the night. When it was clear that Honda would not emerge from the motel room voluntarily, law enforcement turned to tear gas at about 8:55 p.m., according to interim Eureka Police Chief Murl Harpham.
A total of four canisters of high-strength tear gas were deployed into Honda's room before he crawled out feet first, Harpham said. The suspect was ordered to show his hands as an officer was standing by to handcuff him. Honda didn't follow orders and was subsequently hit with tasers twice, the police chief said, but fought through it.
"At that point, he rolled over and came up with a gun aimed at an officer, who jumped behind a shield," Harpham said.
Three SWAT officers responded by firing at the suspect, who was subsequently taken to the hospital where, SWAT commander Sgt. Bill Nova said, he understood that Honda was pronounced dead shortly thereafter.
"I wholly support and have absolutely no problem with how this event ended," Nova said.
None of his team, the Sergeant said, go out looking to shoot someone.
"That suspect, last night, made a choice," Nova said, "the officers had no choice but to react."
The standoff began about 3 p.m. Thursday when officers attempted to serve a felony arrest warrant on Honda for alleged sexual assault of three girls under the age of 14 in Trinity County. It was then that officers discovered he was armed.
EPD Sgt. Lynne Soderberg, supervisor of the department's crisis negotiating team said the objective throughout the event was to get Honda to come to the conclusion that he wanted to come out of the room. The team concluded, she said, that Honda ranked very high in suicidal tendencies. While the team had hoped to talk him out of the room, they also understood that he might commit suicide or make law enforcement do it for him.
"We used every method we knew how," Soderberg said. "He made the choice to make us do it."
Humboldt County Department of Health and Human Services Mental Health Branch Director Donna Wheeler echoed those sentiments.
"We used all our best techniques that we could to get him to come out of the room peacefully," Wheeler said.
In the few hours prior to the shooting, Harpham said it became apparent that the situation was not going to be resolved peacefully. The suspect had requested a pencil, possibly to write a will, and had made statements wondering what it would be like to meet his maker.
At the request of Harpham, two parallel teams will investigate the shooting: a state Department of Justice Criminal Investigations team and an investigative team from the Humboldt County District Attorney's Office.
"This request by no means should indicate to anyone that I think our officers acted outside of the law, outside of procedure, or unprofessionally," Harpham said in a news release. "It is only because of the recent incidents our officers have been forced into and the negative reaction by some people and the spin by some media, that I am initiating this. It is my hope that by having two outside agencies investigate the shooting, it will calm the fears of those who believe that we acted wrong in these incidents."
Harpham also had harsh words for those who take to Monday morning quarterbacking.
"We never do anything right in the eyes of some people, usually they don't know what the hell they're talking about," he said.
At the same time, Harpham acknowledged his appreciation for many in the community who support the department.
See related article on crisis negotiation
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Calif. police fatally shoot man after 32 1/2 hour stand-off