The family of a 59-year-old Forks man who was killed by police at a Clallam County RV park in 2016 has sued the Forks Police Department and a former officer who they say escalated a routine welfare check into a deadly confrontation.
In an unusual twist, the federal civil-rights claim filed by the two sons of Edward Lowell Hills does not include any claims against the Clallam County sheriff’s sergeant who fired the fatal shot, but lays the blame for the incident on Mike Gentry, a now-resigned Forks officer with a troubled history. The lawsuit claims Gentry acted recklessly and illegally when he tased Hills — who was unarmed at the time — within seconds of his arrival, as Hills stood in the doorway of his motor home talking to sheriff’s Sgt. Edwin Anderson.
“Gentry’s illegal and unjustified trespass against both Hills’ person and Hills’ home, and illegal and unjustified use of force against Hills, caused Hills to reach for a gun in a desperate attempt to defend himself,” says the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court on July 9. When Hills grabbed a gun from inside his home, it caused “Anderson to shoot Hills, followed by Gentry shooting Hills both through a closed door and also through the walls of his home” without knowing whether anyone else was inside. According to an investigation conducted by the Washington State Patrol, Anderson fired twice and Gentry fired eight times.
Hills bled to death inside his trailer from a chest wound caused by a round from Anderson’s gun, according to the lawsuit. Hills suffered two other gunshot wounds, one to his thigh and another to his knee, apparently from rounds fired by Gentry through the walls. The officers said they could hear Hills mumbling inside the trailer for nearly 15 minutes after the shooting while they waited outside for backup, and while Gentry repeatedly told him to come out with his hands up.
The lawsuit also names the Forks Police Department, which the family’s Seattle attorneys, Daniel DeLue and Timothy Allen, claim kept Gentry on as an officer despite a documented history of discipline and poor choices in previous years, including allegedly improper association with known female drug users and an alleged relationship with a 16-year-old girl. Gentry, according to the lawsuit and Forks police records obtained by The Seattle Times, maintained what an internal Forks Police Department memo referred to as a “party trailer” on a logging road outside Forks, where a hunter found Gentry’s police badge. He was repeatedly told his job was at risk, but he was never fired, according to the documents and lawsuit.
Attempts to contact Gentry by telephone were not successful Thursday. Messages left at the Forks Police Department and with Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck were not immediately returned.
In 2017, the year after the shooting, Gentry resigned from the department after being suspended when a woman accused him of rape and obtained a protective order, according to court documents and news reports. The FBI was contacted to conduct an investigation, according to Forks police documents, however no criminal charges have been filed. The FBI, contacted earlier in the week, said it could neither confirm nor deny the investigation.
DeLue, one of the family’s lawyers, said Hills’ sons did not blame Anderson for shooting their father and had “made peace” with the sergeant and opted not to sue him. DeLue said they believe the shooting never would have occurred had Gentry not escalated the incident into a confrontation by threatening their father with a Taser. According to dispatch records and a time-stamp on video from a trailer-court surveillance camera, just 78 seconds passed between when the officers arrived and they reported “shots fired” to dispatchers.
Police were called to the Lake Pleasant RV Park on the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2016 to check on Hills after a neighbor reported Hills had been up all night yelling, swearing at the neighbor when he went outside and pointing his finger at him as if it were a gun. It was out of character for the normally quiet Hills, and the neighbor called police out of concern. The neighbor said he never saw a weapon.
Another neighbor, Treven Cullen, said he saw Gentry aiming a Taser at Hills almost immediately after the officers arrived, while Hills was standing in the doorway of his trailer talking and gesticulating at Anderson, according to the lawsuit. “He said, ‘I’m gonna Tase you,'” and a second or two later Gentry fired the Taser, which the investigation showed failed to contact Hills and had no effect. Hills was not under arrest and was inside his home at the time, the lawsuit said.
Anderson, who said Hills had threatened to shoot him and was talking wildly about being God, said that’s when Hills reached inside the trailer and came back with a small revolver, forcing Anderson to defend himself, according to the lawsuit.