PROSECUTOR BACKS OFFICER IN SHOOTING O’BRIEN ACTED IN SELF-DEFENSE DURING STANDOFF — (The Spokesman-Review)

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The Spokesman-Review,  (Spokane, WA)

January 7, 1997

Author: Winda Benedetti Staff writer[]

A deputy who shot and killed a Twin Lakes man last month acted in self defense and was justified in his actions, the Kootenai County prosecutor said Monday.   Kootenai County sheriff’s officials identified the officer Monday as Deputy Michael O’Brien.

O’Brien shot Robert K. Mills Jr., 54, on Dec. 8 after Mills came out of his Twin Lakes condominium and pointed a rifle at the officer.   “This was a tragic, justifiable, homicide,” said Kootenai County Prosecutor Bill Douglas.   “The officer was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death.”

Mills’ father said Monday he does not blame the officer for shooting his son.   “We think Bob brought it on himself and went far enough to where the policeman was probably justified in what he did,” said Robert Mills Sr., of Spokane.  “It’s just an unfortunate tragedy. (My son) just got mixed up in something that was more than he could handle.”

Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Twin Lakes condominium the night of Dec. 8. Mills Jr. had called 911 threatening to hurt people and kill himself.   When O’Brien arrived at Mills’ condominium the officer tried talking to the drunken man who came to the door with a gun in his hand.   “I overheard Deputy O’Brien say in a very calm and conversational tone. `Hey bud, just put down the gun,”’ Deputy Ed Anderson told state investigators with the Idaho Criminal Investigation Bureau. The bureau looked into the case at the sheriff’s department’s request.

Mills refused to put down his gun and eventually began firing numerous shots out of his apartment.   Deputies warned neighbors to stay inside and out of the line of fire. But a group of teenagers ignored their orders, said Sheriff Pierce Clegg. Mills nearly shot a deputy who then tried to motion the teenagers to safety, Clegg said.   Mills also threatened to fire his gun through his ceiling and into the apartments above where people were hiding, according to the state report.   O’Brien continued trying to convince Mills to turn himself in. But when Mills walked out of his condominium and aimed a rifle at the deputy, O’Brien shot the man once in the head, according to the report.

O’Brien was placed on paid leave pending the outcome of the state’s investigation.   He since has received counseling and has returned to work.

“It’s tough when your goal is to save people’s lives and you have to take a life,” said Capt. Ben Wolfinger.   “The officer used commendable restraint given the subject’s actions leading up to the shooting,” Douglas said Monday.

Mills Sr. said Monday that his son was a good man who had suffered from severe depression in recent years.   Mills Jr. had always loved hunting and being in the outdoors. “He started fishing when he was in diapers,” Mills Sr. said. A car salesman and former bank loan officer, Mills Jr. was the father of three children.

Mills Jr. had battled depression since his divorce three years ago, his father said. Relatives said Mills had threatened suicide and struggled with a drinking problem. When he drank, his personality was like  “Jekyll and Hyde,” family members told the state investigators.

Mills Jr. had been taking Prozac to curb his problems.  But, shortly before his death, he was laid off from his job as a car salesman in Post Falls. His father suspects loneliness and the holidays added to his depression.

After the shooting, family members received Christmas cards from Mills in the mail. They were dated the morning of the shooting.   “It just got more than he could bear,” Mills Sr. said.

Edition:  IDAHO
Section:  THE HANDLE
Page:  B1
Dateline:  COEUR D’ALENE
Record Number:  9701090438

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PROSECUTOR BACKS OFFICER IN SHOOTING O’BRIEN ACTED IN SELF-DEFENSE DURING STANDOFF