Seattle police have identified the two SWAT team sharpshooters who fatally shot Joel Reuter, a 28-year-old mentally ill man armed with a Glock 9mm handgun, Friday morning after an hours-long standoff on Capitol Hill.
The officers, Chad Zentner, 44, and Jeff Geoghagan, 42, are both on paid administrative leave, as is standard during the investigation of an officer-involved shooting, said police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb.
Geoghagan, a veteran SWAT officer who was hired by the department in April 1994, has been involved in three earlier shootings, two of them fatal. All three shootings were ruled justified by the department’s Firearms Review Board, which is convened any time an officer discharges his or her weapon outside of the department’s shooting range.
Zentner, who joined the department in March 1996, has not been involved in a previous shooting incident, Whitcomb said.
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The standoff began shortly after 3 a.m. Friday when several residents at the Marq Condos, on the corner of Denny Way and Bellevue Avenue, reported hearing shots and seeing a man with a gun walking around the hallways.
Officers responded and knocked on the door of Reuter’s fifth-floor unit, but backed off and called SWAT officers and hostage negotiators when he threatened to shoot anyone who came into the condo, police said at the time.
After an hours-long dialogue with police negotiators, Reuter stepped out of his apartment with a weapon in his hand, and officers later heard what sounded like a shot fired inside the unit.
When Reuter appeared again and fired toward SWAT officers, Zentner returned fire with a Colt .223 rifle, firing three times, Whitcomb said. Reuter retreated inside his condo but then reappeared, waving the gun, and was shot by Geoghagan, who fired a Colt M-16 .308-caliber rifle once, Whitcomb said.
Zentner, Geoghagan and other SWAT team members were “perimeter officers” and their job was to provide “long cover on the perimeter” of the scene, Whitcomb said. The two were stationed on rooftops of different buildings on the south side of Denny Way, across from Reuter’s condo building, he said.
Their job was “to keep eyes on that condo and ensure that the suspect was not going to present a threat to the public or other officers,” Whitcomb said.
Police still don’t know how Reuter obtained the Glock 26 9mm, but the handgun was fitted with an extended magazine which held more than 30 rounds, Whitcomb said.
Interim Police Chief Jim Pugel said last week that Reuter was under two court orders not to possess firearms because of his psychiatric problems. A records search did not turn up the court orders, but it is not clear whether such orders are entered into a public database.
Whitcomb described the department’s SWAT team — made up of two daytime squads and two nighttime squads — as an “elite unit” that responds to the most high-risk situations.
“There’s a greater risk in that assignment of being involved in a confrontation due to the nature of the calls they respond to — and that’s by design,” he said, noting that SWAT team members are provided with training, protective gear and weaponry that’s not typically given to uniformed patrol officers.
“Based on the work that’s expected of them, the fact he (Geoghagan) has been involved in previous shootings would not be unusual,” Whitcomb said. “It’s not typical, but it’s not surprising.”
In the earlier shootings:
• In December 2002, the SWAT team was helping robbery detectives stake out ATMs, where at least 10 victims had been robbed. After seeing one suspect shove what appeared to be a handgun in a man’s side as he used an ATM in Wallingford, Geoghagan and two other SWAT officers confronted two suspects, who fled on foot.
Geoghagan fatally shot DeOntrel Davis during the pursuit; a second suspect, Leonardo White, later pleaded guilty to attempted first-degree robbery and two counts of first-degree robbery.
• In July 2008, Geoghagan and two other officers shot and wounded a bank-robbery suspect in West Seattle. Douglas Michael Fox, who survived the shooting, later pleaded guilty to armed bank robbery in U.S. District Court and was sentenced to just over 19 years in federal prison, court records show.
• In November 2011, Geoghagan and two other members of the SWAT team fatally shot Vu Hoang Quach, who was armed inside a vehicle on Beacon Hill. Quach initially responded to the officers’ commands to stop the vehicle, but then was seen raising and lowering his gun. He was shot as he drove toward two of the officers in an incident that Whitcomb characterized as a “suicide by cop.”
Sara Jean Green: 206-515-5654 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.