City of Forks pays $333,000 to family of man killed by police

Mike Carter

The Seattle Times

The city of Forks has paid $333,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit filed by the family of a 59-year-old resident who was shot and killed by police in 2016 after an officer allegedly escalated a routine welfare check into a deadly confrontation.

The lawsuit filed by the family of Edward Lowell Hills was unusual in that it did not name the officer who filed the fatal shot as a defendant, but rather it blamed the shooting on the actions of another officer, Michael Gentry, who had a troubled history. Gentry has since resigned from the Forks Police Department.

According to the lawsuit and the family’s lawyers, Gentry confronted the then-unarmed Hills and Tased him within 78 seconds of arriving at the Lake Pleasant RV Court where he lived. When Gentry arrived, Hills was talking to Clallam County Sheriff’s Sgt. Edwin Anderson, who also had responded to a disturbance and was trying to sort out and defuse the situation, according to court documents.

Hill had been standing unarmed in the doorway of his trailer talking to Anderson the afternoon of Nov. 4, 2016, after a neighbor had called police to report that Hills had been up all night yelling, according to reports. The neighbor, concerned about Hills’ mental health, called police.

When Gentry pulled up, he got out of his car and confronted Hills almost immediately and Tased him, according to the lawsuit. Hills reached for a gun inside his trailer “in a desperate attempt to defend himself,” the lawsuit said.

Both officers responded to the sight of the gun by drawing their own weapons and firing. Anderson shot Hills in the chest, “followed by Gentry shooting Hills both through a closed door and through the walls of his home” without knowing if there was anyone else inside. According to an investigation conducted by the Washington State Patrol, Anderson fired twice and Gentry fired eight times.

Hills bled to death inside his trailer from a chest wound caused by a round from Anderson’s gun, according to the lawsuit. Hills suffered two other gunshot wounds, one to his thigh and another to his knee, apparently from rounds fired by Gentry through the walls. The officers said they could hear Hills mumbling inside the trailer for nearly 15 minutes after the shooting while they waited outside for backup, and while Gentry repeatedly told him to come out with his hands up.

The lawsuit named the Forks Police Department, which the family’s Seattle attorneys, Daniel DeLue and Timothy Allen, claim kept Gentry on as an officer despite a documented history of discipline.

Gentry, according to the lawsuit and Forks police records obtained by The Seattle Times, maintained what an internal Forks Police Department memo referred to as a “party trailer” on a logging road outside Forks, where a hunter found Gentry’s police badge. He was repeatedly told his job was at risk, but he was never fired, according to the documents and lawsuit.

Attempts to contact Gentry by telephone Wednesday were not successful. A message left with Forks City Attorney Rod Fleck was not returned.

Gentry resigned from Forks PD in 2017, the year after the shooting, after he was suspended when a woman accused him of rape and obtained a protective order, according to court documents and news reports. The FBI was contacted to conduct an investigation, according to Forks police documents, although no federal criminal charges have been filed.

The FBI declined to comment or confirm the investigation.

Dan DeLue, one of the family’s lawyers, has said that Hills’ sons did not blame Anderson for shooting their father and that they had “made peace” with the sergeant and opted not to sue him.

DeLue said they believe the shooting never would have occurred had Gentry not escalated the incident into a confrontation.