The Thurston County Sheriff's Office has identified the deputy who shot and killed a homicide suspect outside a mobile home Saturday afternoon on Judd Street as James E. Esslinger, a 41-year-old, 14-year veteran of the Sheriff's Office.
The Sheriff’s Office also has arrested a man who lives at the Judd Street address where suspect John Chinh Vu was located.
Esslinger is on paid administrative leave while an interagency team of local law enforcement officers, led by Olympia Police Department detective sergeant Dan Smith, investigate Esslinger’s fatal shooting of Vu, 41.
Vu was unarmed and fleeing from officers when he was shot, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Olympian
Placing officers on leave after they use deadly force is standard procedure.
The Sheriff’s Office had been searching for Vu since Thursday night, after Vu allegedly shot and killed David Mapu, 21, outside a Lucerne Lane residence in the Meadows subdivision.
Mapu went to help his friend while the friend was having an altercation about an iPod with Vu outside, according to the Sheriff’s Office.
Vu was wanted on a charge of second-degree murder while armed with a deadly weapon at the time of his shooting death Saturday night.
According to the Sheriff’s Office:
Deputies located Vu at a mobile home in the 1700 block of Judd Street about 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Sheriff’s deputies surrounded the residence and detained the homeowner while Vu crawled out of a window head-first. Vu was met by Esslinger and another sheriff’s deputy. Vu fell to the ground and took off running.
Esslinger told Vu to stop and show his hands several times, but Vu ignored the verbal commands and fled, said Thurston County sheriff’s Lt. Chris Mealy.
“The deputy was giving him commands and shouts to show his hands,” Mealy said. When Esslinger fired one shot at Vu from his .223-caliber rifle about 3:30 p.m., Vu was running to an occupied residence, Mealy said.
Vu died of a single gunshot wound to the torso, Thurston County Coroner Gary Warnock said Monday.
According to Washington state law, in order to justifiably use deadly force, “the peace officer must have probable cause to believe that the suspect, if not apprehended, poses a threat of serious physical harm to the officer or a threat of serious physical harm to others.”
The Washington RCW that defines justified use of deadly force by a police officer continues:
“Among the circumstances which may be considered by peace officers as a ‘threat of serous physical harm’ are the following: … There is probable cause to believe that the suspect has committed any crime involving the infliction or threatened infliction of serious physical harm.”
The U.S. Supreme Court holds, in its 1985 ruling in Tennessee v. Garner, that a law enforcement officer may use deadly force to prevent a suspect’s escape when the officer has probable cause to believe the fleeing suspect poses a significant threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or others.
Vu was not armed at the time he was shot and killed Saturday night, but Esslinger had reason to believe that Vu was armed, Thurston County Chief Criminal Deputy James Chamberlain said.
Chamberlain said that there is no reason to believe that Esslinger violated the law, or any of the policies or procedures of the Sheriff’s Office. Chamberlain said he is not aware of any other incidents where Esslinger has used deadly force.
Said Mealy on Monday, “We believed (Vu) had just killed somebody less than two days ago. He posed a threat to others.”
Vu has felony convictions out of California for possession of marijuana with intent to distribute and theft, according to records from the California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation. He was paroled from California in April 2003, according to their records. The Thurston County Sheriff’s Office has said Vu was wanted on a California warrant for a felony parole violation at the time of Mapu’s homicide Thursday.
Esslinger will remain on leave until after the interagency team completes its investigation and forwards those results to the Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office.
Joshua Travis Fredin, 30, who lives at the Judd Street address where Vu was located, was arrested on suspicion of one count of first-degree rendering criminal assistance. Fredin was being held at the Thurston County Jail on Monday night with bail set at $50,000. According to court papers, Fredin told a detective that “he knew that Vu had shot and killed someone but still allowed Vu and his girlfriend to hide at his residence. Fredin also admitted that he did not attempt to call law enforcement about Vu’s whereabouts even though he knew he was wanted for murder.”
Vu’s girlfriend, Jennifer Contrades, 37, also has been arrested on suspicion of rendering criminal assistance and possession of methamphetamine, Chamberlain said. Contrades’ court paperwork was unavailable Monday.
Jeremy Pawloski: 360-754-5465