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Deputy should have been cleared much sooner in shooting

Feather Publishing
2/21/2014
 

Sheriff’s Deputy Tom Klundby showed amazing restraint before he was forced to fatally shoot an out-of-control patient at Eastern Plumas Health Care last October.

There is no other conclusion after reading the recently released investigation report from the Plumas County District Attorney’s Office. A story on the report was published in Feb. 12 editions of this newspaper. The entire report is available on the county website at (http://bit.ly/1biibKg).

The report is now in the hands of the state Attorney General’s Office. We should hear the AG’s opinion in a couple weeks. There is no doubt the attorney general will concur with the findings of the local investigation.

According to accounts from his family and friends, the man who died in the early morning hours of Oct. 20, 2013, was obviously not acting like himself. Although he had a criminal history, including numerous contacts with the local deputies, he wasn’t known to assault people. Even Deputy Klundby, who had dealt with the man numerous times, said he had never seen him in this frame of mind.

Perhaps that is why the deputy waited as long as possible before shooting. He would have been justified in shooting the man several times before he did — including at the outset of the encounter when the nearly 300-pound man charged from his hospital room and attacked him. A smaller deputy (Klundby is 6-foot-3, 240 pounds) would have had no choice other than to use deadly force.

But Klundby tried to restrain the man.

What followed was a long and horrific wrestling match that could have cost the deputy his life, and perhaps others in the hospital had the deputy been injured. The attacker managed to get his hands on the deputy’s Taser, baton and even his holstered gun, firing a shot during the struggle. Despite repeated warnings from the deputy, the man swung the baton at Klundby’s face with enough force to kill him. He missed by just inches.

That was the last straw. An instant later, the battle was over.

Interviews with the hospital staff on duty that night showed the unruly patient pushed them to their limits before they made the 911 call.

When Klundby arrived alone at 1 a.m., his nearest backup was more than a half hour away. Had there been a second officer on the scene, the story might have ended differently. The staffing problems at the Sheriff’s Office have been well documented. Thankfully, the sheriff has received approval to hire additional deputies.

In this case, Klundby did the absolute best he could on his own. He tried every option available before using the authority we give a law-enforcement officer — the authority to use deadly force.

The investigators quickly came to the same conclusion. Unfortunately, it took more than three months for Klundby to be formally cleared of any wrongdoing. He should have been cleared much sooner.

The investigation into this tragic event was thorough, and most of the evidence the DA used for the report was gathered and analyzed in the first few weeks.

The district attorney said office protocol dictated that he wait for results of the man’s toxicology to arrive from Washoe County, Nev. The toxicology report didn’t arrive until late January — about two months after the meat of the investigation was done.

Although he admitted the toxicology wouldn’t have changed the ruling, the DA said office protocol had to be observed — especially in a case as serious as this one.

But if there was ever a case that called for breaking the protocol, this was it.

If the toxicology indeed wouldn’t have changed the DA’s findings, why wait two months to tell the public that the deputy did the right thing? It would have represented the strong show of support that Klundby and his family deserved.

Taking three months to clear the deputy gave the appearance that there might have been some doubt about the way he handled the situation.

There is absolutely no doubt he went above and beyond the limits of restraint that night. He did what had to be done, and he probably saved lives.


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