By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
CHEHALIS – Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer has concluded a sheriff’s deputy’s fatal shooting of a Napavine man earlier this month along state Route 6 near Boistfort was justified.
Gregory S. Kaufman
Lewis County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Matt Wallace was placed on administrative leave after the Nov. 1 encounter in which 64-year-old Gregory S. Kaufman died.
In a letter released Wednesday by Meyer describing his legal analysis to the lead investigator in the case, Meyer outlines a scenario similar to what the sheriff’s office has already said: Deputy Wallace stopped to assist a parked motorist, who he found was suicidal and who subsequently exited his vehicle and advanced upon him with a knife.
Kaufman was struck by two bullets as Wallace retreated, apparently backing up toward the highway in the dark.
Meyer writes the deputy had no other choice:
“When the legal standard is applied to the facts at hand, it is clear that Deputy Wallace was justified when he used deadly force against Gregory Kaufman.”
According to the document, Kaufman was arrested two days prior for alleged misdemeanor assault of his girlfriend, Vicky L. Henthom and a no contact order was put in place.
A Chehalis police officer contacted Kaufman by phone the evening of Oct. 31, asking Kaufman to come to the police department to discuss a violation of the order; because Kaufman had left a note for his girlfriend on her car, according to the document.
Kaufman never appeared at the police station, Meyer writes.
The deadly encounter at a large gravel turnout just east of the South Fork Chehalis RIver Bridge later that night lasted five minutes, according to Meyer.
Meyer gives the following account:
The deputy, alone on patrol, approached the driver’s side door of the car and found Kaufman sitting in the reclined passenger seat.
Deputy Wallace spoke to Kaufman through a tinted, fogged up window and asked Kaufman if he was okay. Kaufman indicated he was fine and just had a nose bleed.
Deputy Wallace seeing cut marks and dried blood on Kaufman’s wrist as well as blood stains on his abdomen – but no blood on his mustache – said he didn’t believe him and asked if he’d been cutting himself.
Kaufman nodded yes, then turned his head and pointed to a neck wound, prompting the deputy to ask 911 dispatchers to send aid.
The deputy asked Kaufman to unlock the door, which he did.
With the door open, the two spoke. Kaufman became emotional, said he’d left a note for Vicky and was concerned about violating the no contact order.
The deputy tried to reassure him he was only concerned about getting him help.
Wallace asked Kaufman where the knife was. Kaufman reached to his right and brought up a knife with a five-inch blade.
Wallace asked him to place it on the dashboard and at first it appeared he would comply.
Then Kaufman looked at the knife, looked at Wallace and then reached over to open the passenger door and got out with the knife in his hand.
Wallace drew his weapon and told him to drop the knife, but Kaufman began to advance on the deputy, with the point of the knife aimed at the deputy.
Wallace repeatedly told Kaufman to drop the knife; Kaufman did not respond but continued to advance, having walked around the rear of his car.
Wallace radioed dispatch to say the man was coming at him with a knife, continued to retreat toward state Route 6.
Then – at 12:16 a.m. – Wallace fired two shots. Kaufman immediately fell to the ground.
Noticeably absent from the narrative are descriptors of Kaufman’s movements, such as “lunged” or “charged” which the sheriff’s office reported in its initial account that morning.
Meyer’s document places Kaufman about 20 feet from his car and Deputy Wallace about 35 feet from the car when he fired his weapon.
The autopsy found a bullet wound to the abdomen, a fatal bullet wound to the head and superficial cuts on the side of his neck and on one wrist. A notepad found on the car seat contained a document titled “Last will and testament.”
Meyer’s information comes primarily from an investigation conducted by the Regional Sheriff’s Critical Incident Investigation Team. The group is made up of deputies from the surrounding counties of Thurston, Pacific, Mason and Grays Harbor and the Washington State Patrol.
Thurston County Sheriff’s detective Cameron Simper was the lead investigator.
Wallace, 37, has been with the sheriff’s office for nine years. Prosecutor Meyer notes he is authorizing the return of Wallace’s duty weapon to him.
Lewis County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Chief Civil Deputy Stacy Brown said on Wednesday evening she did not know when Deputy Wallace would be back at work.
Last year, when Deputy Matt McKnight fatally shot a citizen, an internal investigation was not completed until a week after the prosecutor completed his review of the outside investigation.
Read Prosecutor Meyer’s letter detailing his investigative conclusions, here