MISSOULA, Mont. - The family of a Flathead County man killed during a police shooting in Weed, California, is blaming the man's death on mental health issues and an excessive use of force by officers.
According to the Weed Police Department, 32-year-old Steven Hughes Henning, of Whitefish, was shot to death by officers during a violent struggle in Weed on Thursday night.
Police say they were attempting to arrest Henning for starting an illegal fire, but he allegedly resisted, and was able steal a policeman's taser, flee officers, and fight with a police dog before being shot by both a police officer and sheriff's deputy.
We reached out to Henning's family members, who are from Whitefish. They say Henning has a history of mental illness, for which they blame previous run ins with law enforcement. They say they don't believe Henning was armed, and think the use of deadly force was unjustified.
"He's portrayed as somebody who did drugs, and led the police on a rampage,"said Henning's brother, Cody Henning. "That's wasn't the case, it was the onset of his mental disorder."
"What we want to bring out in this story, and certainly bring to light, is the justification of killing a mentally ill person over such a small thing," said brother Ryan Henning.
This shooting is still under investigation.
The following is a press release on the incident from the Weed Police Department:
On October 24, 2013 at about 9:15 p.m., Weed Police Department and Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office personnel encountered a male adult in the vicinity of Shastina Drive at the Interstate 5 overcrossing who was wanted for an unprovoked and vicious attack ...against a Weed Police Department officer earlier in the evening. During this earlier encounter with the suspect that occurred at the Greyhound Bus Stop on South Weed Boulevard, the suspect was contacted after he committed an act of arson by starting a fire on the wood porch immediately in front of the building, presenting a major fire and public safety hazard. When contacted, the suspect refused to extinguish the fire and aggressively and violently resisted arrest, despite an attempt by the officer to subdue him with a Conducted Energy Device (Taser). During the progressively escalating altercation, the suspect jumped into the officer's patrol unit and attempted to steal the police vehicle. The officer used pepper spray in an attempt to subdue the suspect and again attempted to arrest the highly aggressive suspect as a volatile struggle occurred inside the patrol unit.
The suspect violently resisted, exited the patrol unit, and fled the scene on foot after picking up the officer's Conducted Energy Device (Taster), after it dropped to the ground during the struggle. An immediate search of the area was initiated by the Weed Police Department, Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office (SCSO) and California Highway Patrol (CHP). Local officers and deputies encountered the suspect near the freeway overcrossing while canvassing the area on a state right-of-way near the I-5 overcrossing. After attempting to subdue him with a law enforcement canine, the suspect violently resisted, attempted to injure the canine and during the extremely violent encounter the level of violence exhibited by the suspect escalated and the officer and deputy discharged their firearms and the suspect was struck. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene of the incident. Identification has been withheld, pending notification of his next-of-kin.
Investigators from the Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office, Weed Police Department, California Highway Patrol's Mount Shasta Area and Northern Division commands, and the Siskiyou County District Attorney's Office responded to the scene. The CHP and the California Department of Justice Crime Lab (Redding) is assisting with evidence collection and processing. The case is under investigation. The Siskiyou County District Attorney's Office, with assistance from the CHP, is handling the criminal investigation. The Siskiyou County Sheriff's Office and the Weed Police Department are each handling the administrative Officer-Involved Shooting Investigation(s). Anyone with information about the suspect's actions or activities prior to the shooting or, anyone witnessing the initial assault against the Weed Police Officer at the bus station or the altercation near the I-5 overcrossing and Shastina Drive scene are urged to contact Supervising Detective Marc Perrin of the District Attorney's Criminal Investigative Bureau, at 842-8125.