Mills: Suspect Pointed Gun at Officer Before Being Shot


The bullet-riddled Mazda 3 Clayton Lasinski allegedly stole from Sole Savers. - EPD
  • EPD
  • The bullet-riddled Mazda 3 Clayton Lasinski allegedly stole from Sole Savers.

The 26-year-old Garberville man wounded in a Dec. 6 officer-involved shooting pointed his handgun at an officer before police opened fire, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills said at a press conference today.

Mills spent about 35 minutes walking media through the traffic stop, foot pursuit and ensuing shooting that transpired over 12 tense minutes shortly before 5 p.m. on Dec. 6 and ended when the wounded suspect, Clayton Lee Lasinski, collapsed to the ground on Fifth Street.

During the pursuit, Mills said officers fired a total of 42 rounds — not 44 as sources previously told the Journal — one of which struck Lasinski in the chest and 25 of which struck the Mazda 3 he was allegedly attempting to flee the scene in. Mills said investigators have determined that 14 bullets hit other objects — walls, vehicles and a fence — and that three remain unaccounted for.

Mills said three of the officers involved — officers Steven Linfoot and Dustin Nantz, and senior detective Ron Harpham — have been psychologically evaluated and cleared to return to duty, with Harpham already back in the field and the other two returning to active duty tomorrow. The fourth officer who fired his weapon during the incident — Abraham Jansen — is away on a previously scheduled vacation and has yet to undergo the psych evaluation, Mills said, offering no timetable for the officer’s return to the field.

The police chief said officers had been told Lasinski was armed when Linfoot entered into a foot pursuit near the Sole Savers auto dealership parking lot on Seventh Street, ultimately following Lasinski onto the lot. There, Lasinski found an idling, empty, red Mazda 3 — which had just returned from being detailed and had been left running with the heater on to dry out its carpets — and climbed in an open passenger-side door.

Mills said Linfoot approached the driver’s side of the vehicle ordering Lasinski to stop when the suspect allegedly raised his handgun over the steering wheel and pointed it at the officer, prompting Linfoot to open fire. Linfoot stepped backward while firing, Mills said, tripped on a curb and continued firing as the Mazda sped past him. Mills said Linfoot fired a total of 16 shots at the vehicle — as well as a round that ejected from his handgun without firing, probably due to a malfunction. It’s believed, Mills said, that one of Linfoot’s shots hit Lasinski in the chest.

While Linfoot was wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting, Mills said it wasn’t recording. The officer, he said, was just going through lineup at the beginning of his shift and hadn’t powered up and activated his camera before he was dispatched to help search for Lasinski. Nantz, meanwhile, was at the end of his shift and his camera’s battery died prior to the shooting incident, Mills said. “There are limits to technology,” Mills said, adding that Jansen’s camera was recording throughout the incident.

As Lasinski attempted to flee the lot in the Mazda, Mills said Nantz and Jansen both opened fire, with Nantz firing off five rounds and Jansen firing 15. The Mazda turned into traffic, heading east on Sixth Street, where Jansen fired two additional shots, according to Mills. The vehicle stalled near the intersection of Sixth and B streets, Mills said, at which point Lasinski bailed out of the vehicle and attempted, unsuccessfully, to carjack a Toyota pickup truck that was pulled over nearby. The pickup sped off, Mills said, at which point Lasinski ran north on B Street toward Fifth Street. While on B Street, Lasinski allegedly turned and raised his .45 caliber handgun at officers, Mills said.

Detective Ron Harpham fired a single shot as Lasinksi as the suspect headed north on B Street, but stopped firing fearing for the safety of civilians in the area. Jansen fired three additional shots while pursuing Lasinski on B Street, the chief said.

Pointing out that it takes about .3 seconds for an officer to fire a round and chamber a bullet for the next trigger pull, Mills said just three minutes and nineteen seconds passed from the time Linfoot first laid eyes on Lasinski to when officers had disarmed him and summoned paramedics to the scene.

While Mills said two witnesses said they believed Lasinski had fired at officers, Mills said that “did not turn out to be the case.” Mills said Lasinski’s .45 caliber handgun was found with a full clip, an empty chamber and its hammer cocked back, indicating he may have attempted to fire at officers but the weapon malfunctioned or he wasn’t operating it correctly. Nonetheless, Mills said, some officers reported that they thought they were in a firefight, saying they thought they’d heard different caliber gunshots, which Mills attributed to officers’ shots echoing off buildings in the area. No .45 caliber shell casings were recovered during the investigation.

Mills said a witness account of an officer firing an AR-15 style rifle also proved incorrect, as only .40 caliber shell casings were located at the scene.

Moving forward, Mills said the investigation remains ongoing, with additional interviews scheduled and forensic evidence reports expected from the California Department of Justice.

Once the investigation is complete, Mills said he will conduct an internal review and bring the case to both a shooting review board and his police chief’s advisory panel for review, looking at whether the officers involved followed departmental policies.

Mills said while there are things that “concern” him about the incident, he wants to be clear that policing is a very tough job. “We ask our young men and women to make decisions in microseconds and we expect them to be right 100 percent of the time,” he said. “We look at the justification, both legal and policy, for the shootings. We look at the context and environment these shootings took place in. And we look for the proportionality of our response in these shootings and then we are harder on our own people than anyone else could possibly be.”

Mills went on to say the use of deadly force by officers must be both legally and morally justified.

The chief said today his department will be launching a new website — a "transparency portal" — where it will post the power point presentation used at today’s press conference and an executive report on the fatal 2014 officer-involved shooting of Thomas “Tommy McClain.” Additionally, Mills said his department will post video of former EPD Sgt. Adam Laird arresting a juvenile suspect back in 2012, video that has been the focus of a more than two-year legal battle between the city and the North Coast Journal — a battle the city pushed all the way to the California Supreme Court.

Yesterday, Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Christopher Wilson turned over a copy of the video to the Journal. Now it appears the city, which has spent at least 18 months and a yet-to-be-determined amount of public resources arguing the video is a confidential part of Laird’s personnel file, has decided to proactively release it. Check back here later this afternoon to see the video for yourself.

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