Leonid Kalyuzhnyy was detoxing from alcohol and in agony.
His girlfriend, Tracie Mohnkern, said she left her apartment and went to check on him in his downstairs unit several times during one particularly difficult night in late November. Despite his suffering, Kalyuzhnyy was determined to remain sober, Mohnkern said.
But just after 4 a.m. on Nov. 29, Seattle police were called to their apartment building in the Central District after witnesses reported hearing a gunshot. Responding officers looked up at the building’s second floor and saw Kalyuzhnyy holding a rifle in an open hallway.
Kalyuzhnyy yelled, “I’m going to kill you,” and fired a gunshot at the officers, according to police.
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Officers returned fire, killing the 51-year-old.
Kalyuzhnyy was the sixth person killed by police in Seattle in 2013, an unusually high number in a year that saw a similar number of homicides (29) in the city as in the previous year (27) with four days left in the year.
Interim Seattle Police Chief Jim Pugel attributes the number of officer-involved shootings to the increase in people suffering from mental illness not getting the help they need.
“It’s somewhat reflective of other officer-involved shootings throughout the nation,” Pugel said. “Federal funding and state funding to assist families of the mentally ill and the mentally ill themselves is falling farther behind.”
While Pugel said “no homicide is acceptable,” he said that officers are often left with no other choice than to open fire because they are threatened with deadly force. Five of the people killed in Seattle this year in officer-involved shootings were shot by Seattle police; the sixth was killed by Bellevue officers.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office classifies deaths at the hands of police as homicides. Vehicular homicides are not included because they are classified as traffic cases.
Of the 23 homicides that did not result from a police shooting, 15 remain unsolved. Charges have been filed in five cases and prosecutors declined to file charges in another three cases, likely because the deaths resulted from self-defense. Two of the homicides were men who suffered assaults in 2012 but died in 2013.
According to Seattle police, there was one officer-involved homicide in the city in 2012.
All officer-involved shootings are subject to fact-finding inquests before jurors who are not asked to determine guilt or innocence, but instead are asked a series of yes or no questions about the information presented.
Earlier this year, an inquest jury found that the three Seattle officers who shot and killed Jack Sun Keewatinawin on Feb. 26 had reason to fear for their lives, a key finding in determining whether officers acted properly.
Keewatinawin, a 21-year-old with a long history of mental illness, was angry and ranting when he called his two older brothers, police said after the shooting in North Seattle. The brothers were anxious about Keewatinawin and their father when they separately called 911 and told dispatchers their brother was mentally ill and was off his medications, according to police records. They also said they feared their father was being held hostage, according to recordings of their 911 calls.
Keewatinawin was shot and killed after police say he wielded a piece of metal rebar “in a threatening manner” at responding officers.
An inquest jury also found that police acted lawfully when they fatally shot James David Anderson, 32, at a Central District bar on Jan. 27. Police killed Anderson in a shootout after he had wounded his girlfriend and a doorman at the Twilight Exit.
Several other inquests are pending, including one to determine the facts behind a fatal March 22 shooting by Bellevue police in Seattle’s Columbia City neighborhood.
Russell Lyndell Smith, a robbery suspect, was shot inside a car by members of a Bellevue police SWAT team who were moving in to serve a search warrant on a home on 43rd Avenue South near South Hudson Street. Police say when he was ordered to surrender, Smith put the car into reverse, slammed into a parked truck and drove directly at officers.
Three Bellevue SWAT officers opened fire on Smith, killing him.
Some residents of the neighborhood complained about the shooting, saying officers didn’t alert them to the operation. Bellevue Police Chief Linda Pillo later told a community meeting that officers didn’t want the search-warrant action to end as it did.
John Bowman, a retired professor at the Police Training Institute at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and former police officer, said he’s not surprised by a rise in officer-involved shootings.
“There seems to be a lot more people prone to violence now,” Bowman said, speaking by phone from his home in southwest Florida.
“When police officers are challenged with deadly force, perhaps now they are responding more aggressively,” said Bowman, who advises police departments and acts as a paid expert witness in criminal trials.
As a police trainer for more than 25 years, Bowman said he regularly told police officers that “If someone points a gun at you, it’s time to shoot the guy.”
“For years I preached against the negotiate mentality, where cops felt they had to talk to someone before they [fired a] shot.”
In addition to Keewatinawin, at least two others killed by police in Seattle in 2013 suffered from mental illness.
Joel D. Reuter, a 28-year-old, was fatally shot by Seattle police SWAT team sharpshooters July 5 after he opened fire on officers from his Capitol Hill apartment. The shooting came at the end of an eight-hour standoff.
On Aug. 12, Martin Anwar Duckworth, 31, a street criminal, shot a King County Metro Transit bus driver in downtown Seattle. Duckworth then tried to carjack a delivery truck and a car before boarding a second bus and raising his gun and pointing it at responding officers. Police shot and killed Duckworth.
The man suspected of fatally stabbing Shoreline Community College professor Troy T. Wolff on Sept. 13 also has a history of mental illness, according to court records and his family. Donnell D. Jackson, charged in the unprovoked attack in Pioneer Square, had previously been committed to a state mental hospital in California.
A call for reform
Wolff’s slaying prompted King County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Satterberg to reiterate his call for reforming the state standard for involuntary committal, allowing lifetime supervision of mentally ill offenders who have already committed acts of violence and increasing capacity in the state’s psychiatric hospitals and local inpatient facilities.
“We can see incidents like this occur with tragic regularity in our community,” Satterberg said of Wolff’s slaying.
What led Kalyuzhnyy — a Russian immigrant whose girlfriend said he once worked as an agent for the former Soviet Union’s state police, or KGB — to open fire at police is unclear. A police source said that Kalyuzhnyy had been drinking, something his girlfriend, Tracie Mohnkern, questions.
“He’d been four days clean, no booze,” she said.
The King County Medical Examiner’s Office said the results of toxicology testing on Kalyuzhnyy’s blood are not subject to public disclosure.
Over the past decade, Seattle’s lowest yearly total of homicides was 19 in 2010; the highest was 32 in 2003.
The city’s highest recorded yearly homicide total was 69 in 1994.
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.
Jennifer Sullivan: 206-464-8294 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @SeattleSullivan.