Prosecutor: Officer-involved shooting at standoff is justified

Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Katie Svoboda determined that law enforcement officers acted lawfully back in August when they responded to a call in rural Hoquiam and fired their weapons at a man who was apparently holding his wife hostage and shot at the officers after causing a fire that destroyed his house with him and his wife inside.

Svoboda sent an 11-page letter to the Sheriff’s Office concluding that “use of force by all seven officers who fired their weapons was lawful,” said Grays Harbor County Undersheriff Brad Johansson. “She also found sufficient evidence to charge the male suspect with several felony crimes if he was not deceased.”

The letter described a chaotic scene that preceded the deaths of the couple on Chenois Valley Road in Hoquiam Aug. 31.

Svoboda said, after a review of the “extremely thorough” investigatory materials provided to her office, “It is my opinion that all criminal liability rests with the decedent, Bret James Moore.” The case involved several local police agencies. To avoid conflicts of interest, the case was investigated by the Mason County Sheriff’s Office, as part of the Region 3 Critical Incident Investigation Team.

In total, seven members of the Aberdeen Crisis Response Unit (CRU) discharged their weapons after the male suspect in the home at 71 Chenois Valley Road “fired numerous rounds in the direction of CRU members,” said Johansson. Those officers included two Sheriff’s deputies, two Hoquiam officers and three Aberdeen officers. No officers were hurt during the exchange.

‘Harrowing set of facts’

The letter includes graphic details of the incident not previously made available while Mason County investigated the officer-involved shooting aspect of the chain of events that night that led to the death of Moore and Tanya Rondon, described as Moore’s wife.

Svoboda’s letter said a census worker who had visited the home earlier in August returned to the residence Aug. 31 by invitation of the couple to shoot guns and fish on the property. As a gift, the census worker brought a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey.

The investigation indicates the couple consumed the whiskey “liberally” while the census worker and the couple’s 18-year-old son spent the afternoon fishing and shooting guns. “When they returned to the house Moore and Rondon were ‘quite belligerent,’” read Svoboda’s letter. Moore was reportedly armed with a .40 caliber handgun.

The son attempted to take the handgun from Moore, according to Svoboda’s letter. The gun discharged, and the son lost the pinky finger on his left hand and the bullet grazed his left thigh. The son later said he believed Moore may have been struck in the chest. The son was eventually able to disarm Moore and Rondon called 911.

Rondon’s initial 911 call came in at 9:17 p.m. She said that her son’s pinky had been shot off and her husband, Moore, was shot in the chest. During the call, Moore can be heard in the background, and Rondon said Moore was attempting to stab their son. The son and the census worker were able leave the scene to seek medical attention for the son.

“Over the course of the phone call, Tanya does calm down and states, ‘I can’t do this, I can’t handle this,’” according to Svoboda’s letter. “Moore can’t be heard in the background at this point. As she is talking to the E911 dispatcher, her breathing speeds up and she yells, ‘what are you do…’ as the line goes dead.”

As officers arrived, Moore called 911 at 10:30 p.m. and told the dispatcher he didn’t want to hurt anyone, but he would shoot law enforcement if they came into the house. Moore said he couldn’t breathe and had been shot in the lung; however, “he continued talking and yelling at officers over the course of the night,” according to Svoboda’s letter.

When asked if Rondon was hurt, Moore said “I’m not admitting to anything this is not that game…,” but does say she does not need an ambulance. Later, talking to a CRU negotiator, he threatened to blow up the house and referenced having numerous guns and explosives in the house when any mention was made of officers coming onto the property. Moore also indicated it was the son who shot him, and says the son had shot Rondon.

Two CRU snipers took up positions atop a house across the street and could see Moore lying on his back behind the front door. Additional CRU members took up positions 15-20 yards outside the house, waiting for a search warrant to be granted before attempting entry.

For about three and a half hours Moore refused to come out of the home, continued to tell negotiators he was injured, even paralyzed, and refused to provide any information about Rondon’s condition, according to Svoboda’s letter.

Around 2 a.m. Sept. 1, a search warrant was granted. About that time, a large explosion came from inside the house.

“Shortly after the explosion, numerous rounds were fired at law enforcement from inside the residence,” read Svoboda’s letter. “Several officers returned fire and Moore stopped shooting. There was a second explosion at the front porch of the house and the front porch was engulfed in flames.”

Firefighters were not immediately able to attack the fire because of the threat of more explosions, and, Svoboda wrote, “As the house burned, copious amount of ammunition continued to discharge. Neither Moore nor (Rondon) exited the residence.”

The house burned to the ground. Investigators eventually recovered 25 firearms, numerous ammunition containers and a large amount of spent ammunition from the scene.

The partial remains of Moore and Rondon were later recovered by investigators, said Johansson.

“The position where (Rondon) was found is consistent with the belief that she was in the upstairs bathroom at the time of her death,” read Svoboda’s letter. “Moore was found in a position consistent with him being on the first floor and at the back of the house. A ballistic vest was also found with Moore’s remains.”

Autopsies were conducted by the King County Medical Examiner Sept 9. “No bullet fragments were recovered from the remains of either person,” said Johansson. “There was no evidence of a gunshot wound in the remains.”

Svoboda’s letter stated, “In this case, Moore clearly caused the death of Tanya Rondon. If, as the circumstantial evidence indicates, he shot her prior to law enforcement arriving it would be premeditated murder. In any event, Moore triggering the explosions that destroyed their home certainly killed her in the unlikely event she was still alive at that time.”

Both Johansson and Svoboda sent condolences to the son and the Rondon family.

“After 17 years as a prosecutor, I have never reviewed a more harrowing set of facts,” wrote Svoboda. “It is a testament of the training, teamwork, and professionalism of all the officers involved that this incident did not result in a greater loss of life or additional injury.”

No further action will be taken in this case unless new information arises, said Johansson.