Clarification: The Toppenish Police Department’s newly purchased vehicles do not have dashboard cameras. The article has been edited to reflect that.
A Franklin County Sheriff’s deputy had enough violations at his past job to warrant serious counseling from the police chief, according to documents obtained by the Observer. Eighteen months later on November 18, 2019, Deputy Code Quantrell killed Dante Jones in circumstances similar to those he had been counseled about in Toppenish, where Quantrell was a police officer. The Observer obtained the three-page counseling memo written by Toppenish Police Chief Curt Ruggles and a citizen complaint against Quantrell by submitting a public record request.
According to Ruggles, Quantrell pursued a vehicle in a reckless manner for 30 minutes for a traffic violation; pulled a gun on the wrong suspect in a motorcycle reckless driving case and then failed to report the use of force until a complaint was filed; and he damaged patrol vehicles 7 times.
In his memo Ruggles describes the problems with Quantrell’s vehicle pursuit:
“1. The pursuit was initiated for a traffic violation of failing to stop/yield while exiting an alley. This is a civil infraction.
2. At best the actions of the suspect vehicle would constitute a Reckless Driving charge, which is still a gross misdemeanor.
3. The pursuit lasted for approximately 30 minutes, in which almost all of the driver’s actions caused a significant risk to the public’s safety, responding officer’s safety as well as your own safety.
4. Several times throughout the pursuit you mirrored or mimicked the reckless and dangerous actions of the suspect. Both while there was no traffic as well as times where there was traffic.
5. You intentionally caused significant damage to your patrol vehicle, by driving around/through a dead end street/barricade to continue the pursuit.”
The night of the shooting of the unarmed Dante Jones, Jones was clocked at speeds of anywhere from 55 mph to 87 mph on a rural Franklin County Road at around 3:00 a.m. After the initial pursuit involving two other officers, Sergeant Gordon Thomasson says over the police radio, “he’s not driving recklessly or anything at this point, he’s pretty much slowed down to highway speeds”. (Radio transcripts were included in the Tri-Cities Special Investigative Unit Report obtained by the Observer with a public record request.) He “commanded” that Quantrell “terminate the pursuit” (Page 6 of the report). Instead Quantrell continued until he claimed that he was being brake checked and almost hit by Jones. “Assault 1” he said (Page 57 of the SIU report).
In counseling Quantrell in Toppenish, Ruggles quotes Pursuit Driving Policy (SOP 40.005): “Also, reckless and unsafe driving after police engagement is not part of the determination as to whether or not the suspect vehicles’ actions create an immediate risk to public safety.”
On the day of the Quantrell counseling in Toppenish a motorcyclist registered a complaint against Quantrell for pulling a gun on him for alleged reckless driving. The motorcyclist was stopped by Quantrell at an ATM because his clothing matched a report on a reckless motorcyclist made by another officer. Quantrell claimed the motorcyclist was trying to flee even though the cyclist said his motorcycle was not running. According to Ruggles’ memo, “Again, this is 6 minutes after the initial call and nowhere near the area of town the motorcycle would been intercepted if it would have continued northbound on North Meyer… This stop is merely a stop for reckless driving, there has been no violence towards another.” The memo notes that Ruggles “viewed the video.” It is not clear where the video originated, but some Toppenish police cars have dashboard cameras.
Ruggles continued in the memo: “I do not feel the force option of drawing your duty weapon and bringing on target was reasonable or necessary for that time and that place. That aside, the tactic of you advancing on the suspect with your weapon drawn, without cover officers being present is not a tactic that has been trained at this department or even a tactic that is safe.” He continues: “What you did is considered ‘Tombstone Courage’ and that behavior has resulted in injuries and even death in police officers nationwide.”
Furthermore, Ruggles wrote that Quantrell “employed a deadly force option and failed to document the incident until the next day, after Lucas had already called the department indicating his desire to file a complaint and speak with me.” Ruggles cited this as a violation of SOP 40.002 – Departmental Use of Force.
In the Dante Jones case, Quantrell stated that when Jones pulled his vehicle next to his, he got out of his patrol car with his weapon in his right hand, opened the passenger side door and reached in with his left hand to take keys out of the ignition. He claims Jones hit the gas and Quantrell had to shoot the unarmed Jones four times because he was trapped in the car and feared that he would be “drug under the car or ran over” (pg. 6 of the SIU report). According to the police radio transcript, no more than 39 seconds elapsed between Jones pulling up to Quantrell’s vehicle and shots being fired.
The Washington State Patrol Crime Scene Response Team concluded: “Four shots were fired into the vehicle striking Mr. Dante Jones multiple times from the open passenger door/window while he was in the driver seat.”(Page 478 of the report).
According to the crime scene team, three of the four shell casings were found on the road; one was found in the car. “All of the bullet paths associated with the multiple gunshot wounds to Mr. Donte Jones were from his right to left.”
The Observer contacted Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond to ask what policies and investigations he used in the process of hiring new deputies. He responded: “Hiring of Sheriff Office Employee’s/Deputies is extensive. One must first pass a written and physical testing process to establish themselves on a Civil Service list. Once on a hiring list and before the being hired the agency does an exhaustive background investigation on the person. An investigation which involves visiting past employers, neighborhoods where the person lived and so on. After this process is complete the applicant has to undergo a polygraph, medical and psychological examinations. Then they are offered a position if the Sheriff or Chief chooses as you get to pick from the top five applicants.”
Prosecutor Shawn Sant wrote the Observer a month ago, “I am still awaiting evidence to be evaluated and returned from the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory. I will not be able to complete my findings until I have ALL available evidence for review and consideration.” He has not responded to a recent request for additional information.