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The Spokesman-Review (Spokane, WA)

February 6, 2001

Author: Hannelore Sudermann Staff writer []

After reviewing autopsy and sheriff’s office reports, Whitman County’s prosecutor and coroner have cleared the officers involved in the shooting death of Chester E. Hunt.  The 26-year-old Clarkston man died from a single bullet wound suffered in a standoff with sheriff’s deputies Dec. 7. Now officials have determined deputies’ use of deadly force was reasonable and legal.

Hunt’s truck had been stopped by sheriff’s deputies at the intersection of Highway 195 and Johnson Road late Dec. 7. Deputies had been called to the scene after a family member called 911, concerned that Hunt was armed and suicidal.

Three deputies surrounded the truck while trying to talk Hunt into dropping his weapon, according to Sheriff Steve Tomson. The deputies were unsuccessful, even after bringing Hunt’s brother Henry to the scene to attempt to talk Hunt into surrendering.

He said he was going to kill a cop, said investigators. When Hunt climbed into the back of his truck and pointed a gun at the officers, all three deputies fired at him, according to the prosecutor’s statement.

“They acted reasonably,” said county Prosecutor Jim Kaufman.  “He pointed the gun at them. They were under fear of death for themselves and their colleagues.”

One bullet from a rifle hit Hunt. He died later in surgery at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston.

The investigation revealed that Hunt was taking the antidepressant Paxil and had been drinking on the day of his death. Investigators also determined Hunt was having serious personal and financial problems. Officers later found a suicide note in his truck.

Though Hunt’s pistol was loaded, it hadn’t been fired, according to the prosecutor’s report.

The ruling comes several weeks after the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office completed its own investigation of the incident and concluded that the deputies did nothing wrong.

Hunt’s relatives have said they might consider a wrongful death suit against the Whitman County Sheriff’s Office.  “At this time we don’t have a response to the findings,” said Heather Hunt, Chester Hunt’s wife.  “We’re still considering our options.”

Tomson said his office has received correspondence from a law firm representing the Hunts.

“That’s not unusual in these types of circumstances,” he said.  “But I think the case law is clearly in our favor.”

Record Number:  0102060032