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State trooper fired for shooting at fleeing car on I-405 last April
An eight-year veteran of the Washington State Patrol stationed in Tukwila was fired last week for shooting at a fleeing stolen rental car that had run over his foot on I-405 in Renton last April.
Trooper Jeff Laeuger was fired Feb. 20 following a months-long investigation that determined he violated state patrol policy April 4 in opening fire on the fleeing Chrysler, striking it several times.
"There was no threat to the troopers or any other person at the time the shots were fired," said Robert Calkins, a spokesman for the state patrol.
In order to fire a service weapon, a trooper must fear death or serious physical injury to himself or herself or someone else, with rare exception, he said.
Laeuger, who was the 2008 Auto Theft Trooper of the Year, is appealing his termination to the state patrol's Disciplinary Review Board, comprised of individuals selected by the state patrol and the union that represents troopers.
Laeuger was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, which is standard procedure, but never returned to duty as a trooper, according to Calkins.
The driver of the 2012 Chrysler sedan, a 25-year-old Seattle man, was charged with theft of motor vehicle, third-degree assault and attempting to elude a pursuing police vehicle.
The car was reported stolen from the Alamo Rental Cars near Seattle-Tacoma International Airport on April 2. The actual theft occurred March 17. According to court documents at the time, the man, Joseph Victor S. Gill, had been living in the car for about two weeks.
Laeuger had pulled over Gill at about 8:55 a.m. on April 4 for driving alone in the carpool lane near the Sunset Boulevard overpass. During the stop, he learned the car was stolen.
In attempting to arrest Gill, Laeuger ordered him to show his hands and get out of the vehicle. Instead, Gill ducked his head down, according to documents.
Two other troopers arrived, who saw Laeuger holding his gun at Gill. Gill drove off, turning into the trooper who was near the driver’s side door and running over his foot.
He was treated at Valley Medical Center in Renton for the injuries to his foot.
Laueger fired his weapon, striking the Chrysler several times, according to documents.
“[The suspect’s] actions placed officers in fear for their safety and caused them to discharge their weapons at him,” according to court documents.
Gill took the North 30th Street exit from the freeway, crashing the vehicle on a steep embankment across 30th Street from Kennydale Elementary School. Witnesses estimated he was driving at between 90 and 100 mph, followed by troopers and officers from Renton and Tukwila.
The Chrysler jumped the curb and traveled about 50 feet up the steep hillside, out of view from below.
Gill fled down a steep hillside toward May Creek, but was captured 20 minutes after the initial traffic stop on Jones Road.
Gill told investigators he fled the troopers because he saw they had their guns drawn and he panicked.