Brothers’ 911 calls before shooting: ‘My dad is being killed’
Seattle police release 911 recordings and explain how events led to Jack Keewatinawin being shot and killed on the front lawn of his father’s North Seattle home. Father Henry Northwind disputes the police department’s story.
Seattle Times staff reporters
Listen to the 911 calls, SPD radio traffic
One of the 911 calls contains profanity. Audio is from the Seattle Police Department.
Jack Keewatinawin’s brothers feel terrible about placing the 911 calls that set in motion the events that led to his death Tuesday night at the hands of police.
Before summoning police, they had both received disturbing phone calls that evening from their mentally ill brother, who raged about an imagined attack and stolen money. Keewatinawin was with their father at his North Seattle duplex, phoning threats to his brothers, who were at their respective homes.
Unsure of what was going on at the home and unable to reach their father, Keewatinawin’s brothers, Montano Rojo Northwind Sr. and Hawk Firstrider, each called 911.
“My dad is being killed right now. Please! My brother is schizophrenic and he’s flipping out and he’s got a knife to him,” one brother told a 911 dispatcher, according to recordings released Thursday by Seattle police.
Northwind, 38, and First-rider, 29, now know that their brother was not holding their father hostage or threatening him. In fact, their father, Henry Northwind, said Thursday he did not feel he was in danger though his son was raging inside their home, pacing “fast and hard, jumping up and down and stomping on the ground.”
The senior Northwind also disagrees with the police account of the shooting. He questioned whether his son had threatened an officer with a piece of rebar, which police say prompted the officers to open fire.
However, based on the content of the 911 calls placed by the brothers, police were called to a hostage situation involving a hulking and violent mentally ill man who was holding a knife to his father’s throat and had assaulted police in the past.
“He is in another world right now and I guarantee you, if he’s violent, it’s going to take more than one man to keep him down,” Northwind said in his 911 call.
“He’s a big boy. He’s about 400 pounds,” he continued. “In Montana, he’s attacked six cops and beat ‘em up when he was 14 years old.”
Seattle police spokesman Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said police believed they were responding to the “most serious kind of call we can go to.”
“We were trying to get help quickly,” Northwind said Thursday.
Within minutes of the officers’ arrival, Keewatinawin, 21, was shot on a neighbor’s front lawn as his father watched, helpless to intervene.
Police held a news conference Thursday detailing the sequence of events they say prompted three officers to fire eight to nine shots at Keewatinawin, a 6-foot-1, 370- pound man suffering from paranoid schizophrenia. Police Chief John Diaz described Keewatinawin as “easy to deal with” when he was on his medications but difficult when he stopped taking them.
According to his family, he had stopped taking his medication two months before the shooting.
A state Department of Corrections warrant had been issued for Keewatinawin’s arrest Jan. 28 after he stopped checking in with his treatment provider and community corrections officer. He was under Corrections supervision after pleading guilty to third-degree assault with sexual motivation in May for an October 2011 attack on a female jogger in nearby Carkeek Park.
The brothers said they didn’t hesitate to call police because officers had previously responded to their father’s duplex and were usually able to calm their little brother with a few gentle words. On occasion, he had been taken into custody and returned a few days later in much better shape, they said in an interview at Rojo Northwind’s home.
According to Henry Northwind, 70, he and his youngest son were at a nearby QFC grocery store around 6:45 p.m. Keewatinawin wanted a half-case of beer, but his father told him they didn’t have the money. His son then flew into a rage and said, “You and my brothers beat me up,’” Henry Northwind said.
They returned to the duplex they shared, where Keewatinawin phoned both of his brothers.
“He was pacing and getting worked up and he had a piece of rebar in his hands,” said Henry Northwind, who is terminally ill with cancer but brought his youngest son to live with him in order to care for him. “I tried to take it away from him but he twisted it away from me.”
Police and the elder Northwind have different accounts of what happened next.
Deputy Police Chief Nick Metz said police were immediately dispatched but he couldn’t say whether they were told Keewatinawin was schizophrenic.
Officers were setting up containment at the duplex in the 10100 block of Fourth Avenue Northwest when Keewatinawin came out on the porch, Metz said Thursday. An officer who has received crisis-intervention training tried to speak with Keewatinawin, but he didn’t respond, he said.
He went back inside, but then his father came onto the porch and Keewatinawin hid behind the older man “almost like a human shield,” Metz said. The father told officers his son was armed with a knife and a steel pipe, he said.
Keewatinawin ran back inside the house. Fearing he might be retrieving another weapon, a sergeant on scene ordered an officer to use a Taser on him, Metz said. Two attempts to use a Taser on Keewatinawin, who was wearing bulky clothing, failed to connect the barbs to his skin, he said.
During the second Taser attempt, Keewatinawin moved to the front lawn of a house just south of the duplex. Officer Michael Spaulding, 31, slipped on the wet grass, pinning one of his legs beneath him, Metz said. He said Keewatinawin came toward Spauldling with the 18-inch piece of rebar, raising it “in an attack-like manner.”
Metz said Spaulding, believing his life was in danger, fired his shotgun twice. Simultaneously, the two other officers — Stephen Sperry, 28, and Tyler Speer, 34 — fired their handguns at Keewatinawin. Eight to nine shots were fired by the three officers, he said.
Metz said a bone-handled knife was later found in a nearby driveway.
According to the senior Northwind, he was inside the house when he heard his son talking to someone outside. He was unaware police had arrived.
“I said, ‘Who in the hell are you talking to?’ And he said, ‘These ... bunch of cops.’ ”
“I moved to the door and told them he had my knife and a piece of rebar and then the cop turns his head and yelled, ‘He’s fully armed!’ Then they pulled out their guns and Jack takes off running,” said Northwind.
Henry Northwind said he ran outside, yelling, “Please, please don’t kill my son,” as the officers ran after Keewatinawin.
He said his son had stopped running in the neighbor’s yard where he fell to his knees and pulled the piece of rebar from his pants. As he did so, the officers surrounding him in a half circle opened fire, Northwind said.
“They killed him like a rabid dog,” he said.
He said he did not see an officer fall to the ground.
The three officers involved in the shooting have all been placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard in officer-involved shooting investigations.
Chief Diaz said it was clear “more resources are needed” to assist families dealing with mental illness.
“All of these situations are tragic for everyone involved,” Diaz said.
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Times news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.