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An elderly woman whose family said had mental health issues and was apparently homeless at the time was shot dead by a corrections officer in the lobby of a Washington jail last week, according to county officials.
On Friday, 70-year-old Nancy King allegedly entered the Spokane County Jail lobby and began pounding on a pair of doors inside, demanding to speak with staff. A corrections officer, later identified as Sergeant Justin White, responded and tried to determine what the woman wanted, local outlet KHQ-TV reported.
King then is said to have “moved aggressively” toward White while brandishing a knife, according to a county news release. White then retreated and ordered her to drop her weapon, according to the release — when she didn't, he allegedly drew his gun and fired.
Other corrections officers soon arrived and medical staff tried to administer aid, the release states, but King died from the injuries. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
King’s family said that she led a troubled life. Struggling with alcoholism and mental health issues, she’d had a falling out with her family over finances and lost contact with them about five years ago, her nephew Jack King told The Spokesman-Review.
News of her death last week was the first they’d heard about her in years, he said.
“It was just a tragic end to a tough life,” Jack King told KHQ.
As the family grieves her death, he said they are struggling to understand what happened Friday night at the jailhouse.
“I’m pro-law enforcement and I’m a law-and-order type person,” he told the newspaper. “But a 70-year-old woman who weighs 110 pounds probably isn’t a threat to a corrections officer who knows how to handle prisoners.”
This incident has drawn sharp criticism from the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, which published a scathing response the day after King's death.
The letter states that Spokane County officers are equipped with stun guns and that King would have had to pass through several checkpoints before reaching the lobby, making it “glaringly obvious,” in the authors’ view, that proper de-escalation procedure was not followed in this case.
County spokesman Jared Webley partially disputed this, according to The Spokesman-Review. While some Spokane County corrections officers have stun guns and pepper spray, Webley said he didn’t know whether White was carrying either at the time of King’s death.
White has worked as a Spokane corrections officer since 2007 and has served as a firearm and deadly use of force instructor, as well as the overseer of the Field Training Officer Program, according to a county press release. In June 2012, he received a Lifesaving Medal, which according to the police department is given to employees “who, by their immediate actions, have saved a human life under unusual and/or extraordinary circumstances.”
Per procedure, White has been placed on administrative leave and the Spokane Independent Investigative Response team has launched an investigation, according to the release. Once the investigation is complete, the case will be forwarded to the county prosecutor's office for review.
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