Benton and Franklin county prosecutors have never concluded that a police officer needed to face charges over a shooting.
That doesn’t mean they see such shootings the same way, or even process them.
Lately, Benton’s Andy Miller and Franklin’s Shawn Sant have taken very different paths when considering these cases.
Two Black men shot and killed by police in the past couple years demonstrate some of the differences.
Miller closed the 2020 shooting of Gordon Whitaker a short time after the Regional Special Investigative Unit (SIU) completed its report.
On the other hand, Sant hasn’t moved on the 2019 shooting of Dante Jones. Sant got SIU’s report of that shooting nine months ago.
The unarmed Jones was shot by Franklin County sheriff’s deputy Cody Quantrell on November 18, 2019 after an on-again, off-again car chase through rural Franklin County.
Sant received the SIU report in May 2020 and the Observer obtained it a couple of weeks later. In response to a question about the status of the case, Sant wrote in a June 23 email to The Observer:
“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. These are serious cases of public importance. Every time a life is lost, we will look closely at those cases, especially when law enforcement officers use deadly force. I continue to review this case and anticipate completion only after all reports and any additional follow up information we may request, is provided.”
On July 23, 2020, more evidence did become available.
The Observer obtained Police Chief Curt Ruggles May 14, 2018 “counseling” memo regarding Quantrell’s record as a police officer in Toppenish, Washington. In the memo, Ruggles criticized Quantrell for some of the same actions that he took the night he shot Jones, including being overly aggressive during car chases.
The report was not included in the SIU report, and Sant did not indicate whether he had obtained it. Franklin County Sheriff Jim Raymond hired Quantrell later in 2018.
On September 23, 2020, Sant wrote that he was still talking to relatives and friends of Jones.
In contrast to Sant’s long deliberation, Miller announced his decision on Whitaker’s February 9, 2020 shooting a few weeks after receiving the SIU report. On August 20, 2020, in a seven-page letter, he explained why he had not charged any of the police involved.
At that time, Miller released a 420-page first installment of the 2,888-page report. The Observer obtained the report in five installments received between September 2020 and November 2020.
Only the investigation team and the prosecutor had seen the evidence when Miller cleared the officers.
SIU has two Benton County cases that have not been completed.
One involves a man who died in a police car on December 15, 2020 and the other, the wounding of a man on a pedestrian path in Richland on February 1, 2021.
Kennewick Police Commander Randy Maynard, who leads the SIU,, expressed concern about how long it was taking Franklin County to close some cases.
He explained that investigators spend months carefully going over all aspects of a case and writing a report. He said the lack of closure frustrates everybody involved.
Franklin County open cases
Sant has five unresolved cases; two are older than the Jones case.
- Werner Anderson died in the back of an ambulance while in Pasco Police custody on August 10, 2018. Sant received the investigation report around August 28, 2019.
- December 14, 2019, a man was shot and killed December 14, 2019, after stabbing two Pasco Police officers. Sant received that report about March 28, 2020.
Two unresolved cases happened after the Jones case.
- A man died in a gunfight with Pasco police on May 17, 2020. The SIU submitted their report on that case September 21, 2020.
- On July 30, 2020, a man sitting next to a small child in the back of a car was shot by police after allegedly pulling a gun. The SIU for that case was submitted on November 13, 2020.
Deadline for closure
The Observer contacted Sant on February 4, 2021 and asked for an update on the five open cases. He did not respond Miller explained to The Observer, “I don’t know that there is a time requirement imposed by law for prosecutors to make a decision. I try to make decisions in a timely manner while also making sure that the decedent’s family has plenty of time and opportunity to provide input.”