On the morning of Saturday, October 22, Aaron Westby was loading suitcases into a truck in the alley near South 19th and Yakima Street. Aaron was a known car thief. The bright red Ford truck had been stolen Friday with a gun inside it. Two uniformed Pierce County officers approached him. He was known well enough from his previous encounters with police that these two knew him by sight.
Aaron continued to load the suitcases as they approached. He knew he had a warrant out for his arrest. He also knew that this would be his third strike and he’d likely be facing life in prison if they arrested him. So he told them that they would not be arresting him. When they got to him, there was a bit of a struggle. Eventually he got free and got into the truck. One of the officers broke the window. They used a taser on him, but it didn’t seem to stop him. According to the officers, he reached into the glove box and told them he had a gun. One of the officers shot once, killing Aaron Westby.
This, it would turn out, would be the second of four police involved shootings in Western Washington this weekend. The first shooting happened in Grey’s Harbor County when an inmate receiving medical treatment attempted to escape, taking a hostage with the butter knife. Less than 24 hours after Aaron Westby’s death, officers in Lakewood shot an armed man at a party. Then on Sunday, in Seattle’s Belltown, a homicide suspect was shot on Cedar Street.
Aaron Westby was facing life in prison as a result of an extensive criminal record. He had a history of running from the police. The stolen truck he was using was reported to have a gun in it. While, it will be months before any investigation into this will be concluded, it’s safe to say that any charges against the officers are unlikely.
Since 2009, when six officers local officers were killed in the space of a few months, four of them in an ambush in Lakewood at a coffee shop, local police have been much more willing to use lethal force. This isn’t news to anyone around here. From the information on hand about Aaron Westby’s death, it would appear he preferred to run and risk death rather than face life in prison. This was an unfortunate loss of life, but one that could have been easily prevented by Westby simply complying with the officers.
I’ve talked with a lot of cops. Some of them are personal friends. Not one of them wakes up wanting to shoot someone. That said, most of them are more than willing to if it means saving lives or saving their own life. For some the action haunts them forever. For others, it’s just part of the job.
A search of the truck found that there was no gun inside. Aaron Westby’s last threat was a hallow one. Did he say it knowing the officers would shoot? The more cynical might even ask if he said it at all? Aaron Westby made it clear he wasn’t going back to prison and he was right.
If you knew Aaron, please feel free to comment below with memories of him. All the media is going to report is that he was a car thief. If you have more to say than will fit in a comment, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org