Updated at 1:29 p.m.
By Sharyn L. Decker
Lewis County Sirens news reporter
Centralia Municipal Court Security Officer Stephen Howard submitted his resignation effective today, just days after Police Chief Bob Berg issued his report indicating Howard’s use of deadly force on a person fleeing detainment on a misdemeanor warrant was inappropriate.
Berg’s findings released Thursday regarding the mid-December incident made clear Howard should not have unholstered his gun, nor even left his post to pursue the 22-year-old Adna man.
Phillip Pinotti was struck by the broken glass from his car window, but not by the bullet that was later found on his passenger seat.
In a news release distributed this morning, Berg states the resignation means any personnel issues regarding the shooting are now closed.
The chief noted that he appreciates Howard’s service to the community and his long term commitment to the law enforcement profession.
“In terms of moving forward, there are lessons the department has learned regarding policies and procedures as well as training and documentation for individuals assigned to this duty,” Berg stated.
Howard, a retired California Highway Patrol officer, had been employed by the city for just short of four months when the incident occurred. He worked one day each week, as a limited commission officer.
A review by the county prosecutor found Howard’s firing of his weapon was not unlawful, but an internal shooting review board concluded it was a violation of department policy.
Howard said he fired his gun once because he thought Pinotti was trying to run him down with his car, but the prosecutor, the shooting review board and the police chief, in varying degrees, indicated they didn’t believe that’s what happened.
It was the morning of Dec. 16 when Pinotti slipped away as Howard was handcuffing him in Centralia Municipal Court and ran to the next block where his car was parked on Maple Street, got inside of it and locked his door. Witnesses described Howard striking the window with his gun, something Howard said he didn’t recall happening.
Chief Berg wrote in his determination last week, that based on the physical evidence, such as the trajectory of the bullet and statements from witnesses, it was quite possible the gun’s discharge was accidental.
Howard was put on administrative leave while the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office investigated the shooting. Lewis County Prosecutor Jonathan Meyer issued his conclusions on Jan. 7.
The internal review board – called both the Use of Force Review Board and the Shooting Review Board – met on Jan. 13 and forwarded its recommendations to the police chief on Jan. 23.
Berg said Howard returned to work on Jan. 20, following the completion of the criminal investigation by the prosecuting attorney.
Pinotti pleaded guilty to third-degree escape and two related misdemeanors on Jan. 14.
Last Thursday when the chief issued his determinations about Howard’s actions, he noted a personnel decision would be made after a discussion with Howard; it’s not clear whether the two talked before Howard submitted his resignation.
Berg says the department will begin the process of selecting a replacement for the position.
In his short statement, Berg included:
“It is paramount that the public we serve have confidence in their police department, both in terms of the actions we take in performing our duties, as well as the manner in which those actions are reviewed.”
For background, read “Chief Berg: Shooting at fleeing man was outside police department policy” from Thursday February 5, 2015, here