Drunk and despondent over the recent death of a friend, a 30-year-old Fife man engaged police in an hours-long standoff and used his 4-year-old son as a human shield before he was fatally shot by a
SWAT team member early Friday, according to a police spokesman in Fife.
Fife police Lt. Dave Woods said the man — who was identified as Leonard Thomas by the Pierce County Medical Examiner’s Office — was shot by a member of the Pierce County Metro SWAT team around 2:45 a.m. Friday. Other team members fatally shot a large yellow dog, he said.
Woods did not know how many members of the multiagency SWAT team were involved in the shooting or what police agencies they work for.
A man who answered the phone at Thomas’ parent’s house and identified himself as a relative declined to speak with a reporter Friday. Attempts to reach the mother of Thomas’ son were not successful.
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Thomas’ mother called 911 at 10:18 p.m. Thursday and said Thomas had phoned her and asked her to come pick up her grandson, Woods said.
“He was highly intoxicated and despondent due to the recent death of a close friend,” Woods said of Thomas.
When Thomas’ mother arrived at Thomas’ house in the 200 block of 55th Avenue East, Thomas allowed her to take the boy to her car, but then suddenly turned aggressive, forcibly “removed the child from his car seat” and returned to the house, Woods said.
Concerned for her grandson’s safety, Thomas’ mother followed and was struck by Thomas, who prevented her from calling 911, Woods said. The woman ran from the house and called 911 from her cellphone, he said.
Woods said police have responded to Thomas’ residence numerous times on domestic-violence calls and Thomas was listed as armed, dangerous and a threat to officers in a law-enforcement database.
Hostage negotiators spent hours talking to Thomas by phone, and Thomas told them “he was armed, he was not coming out, nor was he releasing his son,” Woods said.
“He was erratic in his behavior” and held his son out of a second-story window, said Woods. He “was using the child as a human shield.”
Around 2:45 a.m. Friday, Thomas agreed to release the child, to the boy’s grandmother, Woods said. Thomas brought the boy out to the front porch and was shot when he attempted to grab his son and pull him back into the house, he said.
A large dog also exited the residence “and was going toward the officers” when it was fatally shot, Woods said.
The boy, who was not hurt, was reunited with his grandmother and later, his mother, believed to be Thomas’ ex-wife, Woods said. He said Thomas and his child’s mother did not live together.
Thomas, who was shot once, was taken to St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Tacoma, where he died, according to Woods.
In March 2000, Thomas was charged with drive-by shooting in what appears to be a domestic-violence incident, according to court records. He pleaded guilty that September and was sentenced to 15 months in prison and 12 months of community supervision, the records show.
He successfully completed supervision, paid $610 in fees and the case was closed in June 2002, according to the records, which note that Thomas was still barred from possessing firearms as a result of his conviction.
In November 2009, Thomas filed for divorce from his wife of 4½ years; the couple’s son was 1-year-old at the time, court records show. The wife joined in the petition to dissolve the marriage, but the case was dismissed in March 2010 when neither Thomas nor his wife showed up for a court hearing, according to the records.
Nearly two years later, in September 2011, Thomas’ wife and one of her friends requested protection orders against Thomas, court records show. Both women wrote that Thomas was suicidal, wanted his wife to watch him kill himself and had made comments about having police shoot him, the records say.
Though temporary orders were issued, they were later dismissed after the wife and friend failed to show up in court, according to the records.
The friend, in her petition, wrote that Thomas “is an alcoholic and known to do drugs.”
Asked Friday if Thomas’ death could be classified as a “suicide by cop,” Woods said no.
“He did not engage the officers and he didn’t display a weapon at them,” he said of Thomas. “He said he was armed and he was using the child as a shield. That doesn’t appear to be someone attempting suicide by cop.”
Seattle Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed
to this report.
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org