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Guard “Justified” in Shooting Death of Elderly Woman in Spokane County Jail Lobby

Jack King, Nancy’s nephew, told the Spokane-Review that Nancy King suffered from alcoholism and mental illness. She became estranged from her family some five years prior as a result of conflict over finances. She left the nursing home where she had been placed and broke off all contact with her relatives. “She always seemed to struggle to keep jobs and to relate on a personal level,” Jack stated.

King showed up at SCJ at 8 p.m. on Friday evening pressing the call button to be admitted into the lobby. The receptionist on duty called for help from Sgt. Justin White when King persisted in pounding on the door after being denied entrance. By the time the guard arrived, King had already been buzzed into the lobby.

As the guard approached, she began waving a knife in his direction. SCJ director Mike Sparber said the guard told King repeatedly to drop the knife. He then shot her several times “defending his life” after she refused. Jack King wondered why the guard felt it necessary to shoot his aunt. “A 70-year-old woman who weighs 110 pounds isn’t a threat to a corrections officer who knows how to handle prisoners,” he stated.

Civil rights activists also question why the guard failed to follow de-escalation procedures. Spokane NAACP president Kurtis Robinson joined two dozen civic leaders in signing a letter asking SCJ why this occurred. They said the county jail showed a “blatant disregard for the personal rights and safety of those within the corrections system.”

The letter said that guards were issued stun guns and pepper spray. They should be trained in using non-lethal force first when resolving situations of this nature. “There is no justification that can be given to validate this murder,” it read.

Jack King and other relatives said that they had not heard from their aunt in years. They believed she possibly could have been homeless and simply seeking a place to stay. “I almost wonder if she just wanted to get arrested,” said Jack. “I don’t know. I really think she was struggling with emotional issues.”

The Washington State Patrol, with the assistance of the Spokane Police Department, investigated the incident. On March 23, 2021 the Spokane County Prosecutors Office announced White’s shooting was justified.

According to a news release from the county, investigators found before she arrived at the jail lobby, bomb threats were made against Deaconess Hospital and the Frontier Behavioral Health building. King allegedly identified herself in one of the bomb threat calls, causing Spokane police to come to her hotel room and request a Designated Crisis Responder. She did not let them in and the request was denied.

The county release also explained that toxicology tests determined that King’s blood ethanol level was 0.12 and that she had taken an antidepressant, citalopram. “Under these facts and circumstances, Sgt. White was justified in his use of deadly force,” the county’s news release read. “Therefore, no criminal charges will be filed against Sgt. White in this matter.” 



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