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September 29, 2003

Teen shot by police was hard of hearing, armed with BB gun

From: Seattle Times, WA - Sep 29, 2003

By The Associated Press

SPOKANE — A teenager who was shot to death by police has been tentatively identified as a 15-year-old member of the Coeur d'Alene Tribe who was losing his hearing.

In addition, it was a BB gun that Eagle Michael, 15, of Worley, Idaho, pointed at police officers shortly before he was shot Saturday afternoon, according to family members and the three people who were with him.

Officer Dick Cottam would not say Sunday night what the weapon was.

Initial reports indicate the officer who shot Michael "followed her training when someone points a gun at her and refuses to put it down," Cottam said.

Michael, a ninth grader, wore a blue hearing aid and was attending the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind to learn sign language, said his aunt, Norma Jean Louie.

Relatives gathered Sunday at the shooting site, and two of those who were with Michael when he was killed returned to lay flowers on the pavement and sing a traditional Indian song.

The memorial grew throughout the day as others added a chair with a stuffed eagle, flowers, balloons and an enlarged copy of Michael's student ID card.

The officer's name has been withheld. She remains on administrative leave, a standard procedure under police department policy.

The shooting is being investigated by the Spokane County sheriff's office.

The shooting occurred after an officer stopped four people while investigating a report of a beer theft from the Maid O'Clover convenience store, police Capt. Glenn Winkey said.

The officer ordered all four to sit on the curb. Three told The Spokesman Review they complied, but Michael did not.

Other witnesses say he had a gun and the officer retreated, trying to keep the patrol car between herself and the teenager.

The three companions, all transients who were initially taken into custody and then released, say they told the officer, "Don't shoot, it's a BB gun," but another witness said he did not hear any of them say Michael's weapon was a BB gun.

"If it was a BB gun," said Billy Blue Walrath, who lives nearby and said he saw the shooting from about 25 feet away, "it sure looked like a 9mm or .45. It was a big gun."

As Michael bent to pick up the beer, the officer was yelling, "put the gun down, put the gun down," Walrath said.

"It looked like he was going to grab the beer and take off," Walrath said, "and she yelled at him a couple more times to put the gun down, and then she fired."

Walrath said Saturday that Michael had pointed his weapon at police, then turned toward bystanders before being shot once in the head.

Michael, the son of Blu'Ann Matt of Worley previously attended Coeur d'Alene Tribal School and received awards in the arts and sports last fall as an eighth grader. He also received a computer from the St. Maries Elks in an annual giveaway in 2001.

Carl Peterson, director of student services with the Idaho School for the Deaf and Blind, said Michael came to the school with a history of trouble and tendencies that were being resolved.

Michael was sharp and found a passion for football but never showed up for his first game, Peterson said.

"He didn't come back to school last week," Peterson said. "We were expecting him. We didn't know where he was, if he was sick or what happened."

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company