By Mike De Felice
Special to Kitsap Daily News
PORT ORCHARD – Kitsap County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Hren, a five-year veteran of the agency, has been cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the August 2020 shooting death of unarmed David J. Pruitte on a South Kitsap highway overpass.
Kitsap County Prosecutor Chad Enright’s said Tuesday his office’s review of an investigation by the Kitsap Critical Incident Response Team (KCIRT) determined that “deadly force used by Deputy Hren was permissible under the law.”
Based on the manner in which Pruitte was charging deputies, Hren, who fatally shot the man, reasonably believed Pruitte was armed and that he and a fellow deputy’s life were in danger at the time of the fatal shooting, according to Enright.
There was no police body camera footage of the incident because the sheriff’s office deputies are not fitted with the equipment.
The findings from the criminal investigation mean that Hren will not face criminal charges. The incident now will be reviewed by the sheriff’s office to determine if the deputies violated any policies during the incident.
“I have reviewed the Kitsap County prosecutor’s opinion and I appreciate the review found no criminal culpability by our deputies,” Sheriff John Gese said. “This was a tragic incident, and the loss of life has had profound impacts. My thoughts go out to everyone who was affected by the events that occurred.
“The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office is committed to providing appropriate training and policies, and our training protocols are constantly being updated,” Gese said. “New methods have already been introduced to further de-escalate incidents with people in crisis.”
KCIRT conducted an independent investigation into the circumstances of Pruitte’s death. The group is a regional investigating team consisting of detectives from several law enforcement agencies in and around Kitsap County.
In this case, KCIRT did not include any representatives of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office in its investigation. The Bremerton Police Department was the lead agency in the review. The KCIRT team included two non-law enforcement community representatives.
At 7:23 p.m. on Aug. 4, 2020, Hren responded with other deputies to the State Highway 16 overpass at Bethel Burley Road Southeast near Bielmeier Road concerning a call made by witnesses who were concerned about a suicidal man sitting on the overpass with his feet dangling over SR 16, according to a sheriff’s office statement.
Deputies Hren and Joshua Puckett were the first law enforcement officials to respond to the scene, the prosecutor’s report stated. Several civilian witnesses reported that Pruitte quickly approached the deputies and appeared to be reaching for an object in his pants. The witnesses later told investigators they believed the object was a weapon.
Hren and Puckett also made statements in which they believed Mr. Pruitte had a weapon. Witnesses confirmed that the two deputies commanded Pruitte to stop his approach and show his hands, but that the 36-year-old man continued toward the deputies. At that point, Pruitte was shot by Hren as he approached the front of the deputies’ patrol vehicles, according to the prosecutor.
The investigation found that Pruitte was unarmed at the time he was killed. The entire confrontation from the point deputies arrived until the time when Pruitte was shot, was approximately 30 seconds, the prosecutor’s report stated.
An autopsy performed by Dr. Lindsey Harle of the Kitsap County Coroner’s Office indicated that Pruitte had a total of five gunshot wounds. The cause of death was determined to be from a gunshot wound to the chest, according to Enright’s report.
Conflicting witness statements
Enright’s 15-page report indicated there were conflicting witness statements about how Pruitte behaved after deputies arrived.
Five witnesses told authorities they believed Pruitte was armed with a gun or another weapon. Despite their similar recollections, witnesses reported observing differing actions by Pruitte, according to the report. One witness reported seeing the subject lift his shirt and reach into his waistband. Two others said they saw Pruitte with his arms at his side and did not see him reach for anything. Two others told investigators his right hand was in his pocket.
Despite discrepancies in the witness statements, the prosecutor’s report identified a common theme voiced by all the witnesses, who described Pruitte as acting as if he had a weapon and was charging toward the deputies.
“The statements from these witnesses would support the conclusion that Deputy Hren’s belief that Pruitte was armed was objectively reasonable given the manner in which Pruitte charged towards the deputies.” the report said.
Shortly after the shooting, deputies Hren and Puckett spoke together prior to making statements about the incident. The prosecutor indicated that the two deputies’ decision to talk with each other was “problematic.”
“The mere fact that they spoke to one another shortly after the incident will cause some in the community to question the independence of their statements,” the report said.
Gese said the conversation the KCSO deputies had with each other prior to being interviewed ultimately proved to be inconsequential. Still, he added, member agencies of the KCIRT team immediately revised policies to restrict such conversations between involved officers in the future.