County Prosecutor’s Office Determines Deadly Force Justified

The Spokane County Prosecutor’s Office has determined that Spokane Police Officer Michael Roberge was justified in his use of deadly force while attempting to take Joseph Hensz into custody on November 8, 2014.

On November 8, 2014, 9-1-1 received several phone calls throughout the afternoon and evening alleging that Hensz was stalking and harassing his ex-girlfriend, who lived in the 200 block of West Knox in Spokane. Hensz was reported to be driving a stolen red 2002 Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a Washington license plate and either sitting in front of the residence or circling it over and over. At one point, he got out of his vehicle and threw an object at the house. Spokane Police developed probable cause to arrest Hensz for Stalking and Domestic Violence Stalking.

Spokane Police attempted to intercept Hensz during the early evening but he successfully eluded the police by driving recklessly at high speed, at which point the police terminated the pursuit. Later that same evening, after Hensz was reported to have been at the West Knox address again, he left the West Knox area and accelerated towards North Monroe at a speed estimated to be 100+ miles per hour. Each of these incidents occurred in residential areas where the speed limit is 25 MPH.

During the second high speed incident; Officers Roberge and Woodyard were in a two-officer patrol car being driven by Roberge. They were patrolling north on Post Street approaching Montgomery when they saw the red Monte Carlo while they waited at the stop sign on Montgomery at Post. They spotlighted the car and it accelerated eastbound. Officer Roberge activated his lights and sirens and accelerated. Based on Hensz’s willful and wanton disregard for the safety of the public and an absence of a less intrusive means to stop the fleeing Monte Carlo, Roberge positioned his patrol car to make vehicle-to-vehicle contact to stop the fleeing Monte Carlo. Officer Roberge’s vehicle struck the right rear of the Monte Carlo, causing both vehicles to come to a stop, with the patrol car coming to rest against a tree. Officer Woodyard’s door was pinned against that tree preventing her from exiting initially.

Officer Roberge got out of his vehicle and gave verbal commands to Hensz to turn off the Monte Carlo and get out. Unbeknownst to Roberge, Officer Woodyard eventually exited the patrol car but neither officer knew where the other was. Hensz was revving his engine and turned his steering wheel towards Roberge, then put the car in gear. The Monte Carlo came towards him and he had to sidestep to avoid being hit. Officer Roberge said he felt Hensz would continue to drive recklessly, endangering him, Woodyard (whose location he still did not know), and other citizens and drivers, given how recklessly he had been driving through neighborhoods and his unwillingness to stop, even after multiple police pursuits, including just being rammed by Roberge. Officer Roberge felt Hensz posed a lethal threat if he was not stopped. He fired four rounds towards Hensz as he drove past him. Mr. Hensz was struck by one round, transported to Sacred Heart Medical Center, and released. In a subsequent interview, Hensz admitted that he was attempting to leave the area during the contact with Roberge.

Under these circumstances, it was reasonable for Officer Roberge to use deadly
force. Spokane Police had developed probable cause to arrest Hensz for Stalking. He had successfully eluded the police, while driving recklessly and at incredibly high speeds through residential areas of north Spokane and was trying to do so a second time when Roberge made contact with him. Officer Roberge feared for his own safety, that of Officer Woodyard, and to that of the general public.

There is no indication Roberge was acting out of malice or lacked a good faith belief in the correctness of his actions. Therefore, no criminal liability attaches and no criminal charges will be filed against Officer Michael Roberge.

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