On June 20, 2005, just before noon, a man walked into the federal courthouse at 700 Stewart Street. He wore a backpack backward on his chest and carried what appeared to be a hand grenade. He ignored security officers standing near magnetometers just inside the front door and walked to a wall in the lobby. He ignored further instructions from personnel in the lobby.
A call came into 911.
I was in the homicide office with my partner Jason Kasner when we heard about the incident. This had officer-involved shooting written all over it. We were next up for a case, so we responded to the location.
We arrived at the chaotic scene and stayed on the perimeter.
A call was made for SWAT. A visiting head of state was leaving, so most of the on-duty SWAT officers were escorting him to the airport. Tim Pasternak was the only SWAT officer available. He responded from the SWAT office on Airport Way South. Bill Collins was a patrol officer who had recently transferred from SWAT. When Pasternak arrived, Collins joined him in the lobby.
Pasternak was armed with an M-16 rifle. Collins had a shotgun loaded with slugs. Several other patrol officers joined them in the lobby of the building.
The lobby of the federal courthouse was ensconced with bomb-proof glass. That’s very helpful when the threat comes from outside the building. When it is inside, the threat is exponentially worse. The glass will capture the concussion within the building rather than releasing it through broken glass.
People peered over rails from the exposed landings above. If the suspect had a bomb in his backpack, as officers suspected, it was likely they would all be killed in an explosion.
“I don’t like this,” Pasternak told Collins. “I’m going to give him one more chance, and then I’m going to shoot.”
“Drop the grenade!” Pasternak yelled, “and lie down!”
The suspect ignored the commands.
Pasternak fired one round, striking the suspect in the lower lip and through his brain stem. At about the exact moment, Collins fired his shotgun, striking the suspect as well.
Jason and I were outside when we heard the “shots fired” report over the radio. We prepared to go in but had to wait. The Bomb Squad needed to make the scene safe.
Detective Scott Karahawa, dressed in his full bomb suit, entered the lobby. He approached the deceased suspect. He examined the hand grenade the suspect had been holding. It was a blank, with no explosive charge in it. He then carefully opened the backpack. Inside he found a wooden cutting board.
Once he secured the scene, we entered and conducted our investigation. This was clearly a suicide-by-cop.