By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CENTRALIA – The man shot and killed by a Centralia police officer yesterday relocated last fall from Arizona to Westport to live near his mother but in recent weeks had reunited with a former longterm girlfriend who resides in Centralia.
Joseph R. Wharton, 48, died from multiple gunshot wounds after a short foot pursuit when a patrol officer attempted to contact him outside a closed coffee shop on Mellen Street about 2:20 a.m. yesterday.
Police say Wharton was trying to scale a fence in a residential neighborhood when Officer Phil Weismiller caught up to him, that he confronted Weismiller and refused to drop a knife he had in his hand.
Lewis County Coroner Warren McLeod said an autopsy today concluded Wharton died from multiple penetrating wounds – meaning the projectiles didn’t leave his body – to his chest and abdomen.
McLeod would not reveal how many gunshot wounds he found.
Weismiller, a city police officer for about five and half years, was put on administrative leave while the matter is investigated.
The manner of death is listed as a homicide, the killing of one human being by another, according to McLeod. Whether it was justified is up to others to determine, he said.
Thirty-nine-year-old Sandra Ziady said she doesn’t know what her fiancee was up to to, or why he would have displayed a knife to a police officer.
“I have no idea, I wish I could find out,” Ziady said today. “It makes me really sad because everything we wanted is finally coming true; now its not.”
Ziady said the two met when they lived in Oakville some 20 years ago and have been together off and on ever since.
Wharton finished an approximately six-year stint in prison in New Mexico about two years ago, and then lived in Arizona to be near his three children who are in their early 20s, she said.
“He’s an amazing person,” she said. “He got in trouble and did his time, but was an amazing father and grandfather.”
She said his incarceration was related to a drug-induced psychosis.
He resides with his sister in Westport, but in recent weeks, he began staying with her in Centralia, Ziady said. She’s been living at the Lakeview Inn for the past two months, near her job at a convenience store on Mellen Street, she said.
Ziady’s shift ended at 11:30 p.m. on Wednesday, and he had texted her earlier and told her not to eat dinner, she said.
When she got home, the door was propped open and he’d lit candles and ordered Chinese food, she said. And he proposed to her, asking her to be his “forever”, she said.
However, he left about 1 a.m., she said.
“He said he had stuff to take care of, I asked what, he wouldn’t tell me,” Ziady said.
The location where he died on Elm Street less than two hours later is less than three blocks from there.
Ziady has talked with police and learned his car was found parked at an apartment complex a few blocks north of the motel. She wonders if he decided to walk home instead of drive, as he’d drank a couple of beers and little whiskey, she said.
She said she watched a video with police that showed Wharton behind the Fiddlers coffee shop, that he wasn’t doing anything, just walking around.
It surprised her, she said, that police claimed her fiance told the officer who first encountered him that he had a gun. He doesn’t own a firearm, she said.
Why he would, as police say, display a knife she could only speculate.
“I have no idea, he has had bad run ins with cops,” she said. “He might have been scared; he only has one eye.”
A team of detectives from surrounding police agencies are expected to complete their investigation into the incident within the next three weeks.
For background, read “Police involved shooting leaves one man dead in Centralia” from Thursday February 13, 2014, here