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News / Clark County News

Vancouver police shooting of war veteran justified, prosecutor says

By Laura McVicker
Published: October 28, 2010, 12:00am

Prosecutors have cleared three Vancouver police officers who shot and killed an Iraq war veteran after he was acting threatening and roaming the Fruit Valley neighborhood Sept. 7 with a gun.

Nikkolas Lookabill, 22, was shot 13 times by officers after he refused to drop his handgun near the 3000 block of Fruit Valley Road, just north of West Fourth Plain Boulevard. The officers involved were Vancouver police Sgt. John Schultz, 41, and officers Frank Gomez, 32, and Gerardo Gutierrez, 38.

Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Denny Hunter said the shootings were “justified and therefore lawful” in an Oct. 20 letter to Vancouver Police Chief Cliff Cook. They won’t face any criminal charges.

The officers, who were placed on paid administrative leave, a standard procedure following law enforcement-involved shootings, returned to their regular duties on Oct. 25, said Vancouver police spokeswoman Kim Kapp. An internal affairs investigation is ongoing, an official said.

Hunter’s five-page report also reveals that Lookabill had been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and was taking the antidepressant citolopram, which has the trade name, Celexa. The night of the shooting, he had consumed several cans of the caffeinated malt liquor, Four Lokos — an alcoholic energy drink, dubbed “blackout in a can,” that has been banned from at least one grocery store chain in Washington.

“Police officers and citizens who observed him described Mr. Lookabill as intoxicated, agitated and noncompliant,” Hunter wrote.

Here’s what preceded the shootings, according to Hunter’s report:

Lookabill had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend in the very early morning of Sept. 7 after she accused him of butting in on a custody matter she was having with her estranged husband. She told him to leave her apartment at 1912 W. 31st St. because he was scaring her. He armed himself with a handgun and left, according to the report.

As he was walking near the 2900 block of Fruit Valley Road, residents saw him “staggering and barking at neighborhood dogs.” When he spotted three residents, he shouted at them, “Friend or an enemy?” When one of the residents approached him, Lookabill displayed a semiautomatic pistol.

One of the neighbors called 911, and Officer Gutierrez responded first. When the officer approached him, Lookabill slowly walked backward and assumed a crouched position.

“Officer Gutierrez began telling Mr. Lookabill to ‘stop’ and ‘drop the gun,’ ” Hunter wrote. “Instead, Mr. Lookabill turned away … and put the gun in the pocket of his sweatshirt.”

As more officers responded, Hunter said Lookabill still wouldn’t surrender, taunting officers by inviting them to “come and get it,” a reference to his handgun.

“He told officers that he was a veteran who had fought in Iraq, that he wanted to be a cop, that this was all his girlfriend’s fault, that he wanted them to shoot him,” Hunter wrote.

Hunter said Lookabill would lay down, roll around on the ground and stand up again.

Just before 4 a.m., Sgt. Schultz told Lookabill not to bring his hands down to his waistband, but Lookabill responded, “Like this?” and moved his right hand to his waist.

“When Mr. Lookabill made a second pronounced move of his hands toward the gun, three officers fired, paused, and fired again until the movement stopped and the threat was abated,” the deputy prosecutor wrote.

Lookabill died at the scene. He had in his possession a .45-caliber semiautomatic pistol with a full clip and one unfired round in the chamber.

Hunter said in his letter that he determined the shooting was justified because the officers and others were in imminent danger and Lookabill was actively resisting arrest. Such circumstances, under Washington law, allow law enforcement officers to use deadly force.

“The loss of life in this situation was tragic and regrettable, particularly so because it involved such a young, clearly troubled military veteran,” Hunter wrote. “However, the conduct of Sgt. Schultz, Officer Gomez and Officer Gutierrez in the circumstances with which they were confronted was clearly reasonable, justified and lawful.”

According to the Oregon National Guard, Lookabill, a former student at Washougal High School, was a specialist with the National Guard. He had deployed to Iraq for 12 months in May 2009 with the 41st infantry brigade combat team, headquartered in Tigard, Ore.

In August, Lookabill attended a re-integration drill with the National Guard, which highlighted benefits and programs available for returning veterans.

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Hunter said Lookabill had been treated for PTSD at a Veterans Affairs hospital, but Hunter didn’t know if he was undergoing therapy.

Capt. Stephen Bomar, spokesman for the National Guard, said he couldn’t comment on Lookabill’s treatment. He said a casualty assistance officer visited Lookabill’s family and that the 22-year-old was given full military honors at his memorial service.

Laura McVicker: 360-735-4516 or laura.mcvicker@columbian.com.