News

City reels after shooting

By ERICA HALL

Staff writer

Flags are at half-mast, Federal Way police are grieving and officers from neighboring towns are standing watch at a memorial at South 272nd Street near Pacific Highway South for Federal Way Police officer Patrick Martin Maher, 46, who was killed in the line of duty Aug. 2.

Auburn Fire Captain Chris Heminger said many have come to leave flowers and express their sympathy and support for Maher’s family, friends and colleagues.

Heminger volunteered to stand at the site of the memorial, where two large canopies covered buckets of bouquets and a large photo of Maher, as a show of support. Like Maher, Heminger served in the U.S. Coast Guard earlier in his career. He gave Maher’s family his Coast Guard coin and a little note, “so they know they’re not alone,” he said.

Maher was responding to a civil dispute at the AM/PM gas station on the corner of South 272nd Street and Pacific Highway South about 10:20 a.m. Aug. 2 when he saw a physical fight in progress that wasn’t related to the civil dispute.

Maher stopped and broke up the fight, which involved Jason Scott Roberts, 28, his ex-girlfriend, 22, and his brother, 24, according to police. Roberts suddenly bolted across South 272nd Street from the AM/PM toward the strip mall and Maher ran after him, with Roberts’ ex-girlfriend and brother following them.

Roberts tried to climb over a chain link fence on the north end of the strip mall but Maher caught up to him and grabbed him, police said. The two struggled and Roberts grabbed Maher’s gun and pointed it at his brother and ex-girlfriend.

Maher tried to disarm Roberts and, during the struggle, was shot in the abdomen.

Roberts was held at the scene by his brother, who had caught up to them, until more police arrived.

Maher was given medical attention at the scene of the shooting and was transported to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died at 4:15 p.m. The Medical Examiner’s Office listed the cause of death as a gunshot wound of the abdomen and ruled the manner a homicide.

Roberts is being held on $5 million bail at the Kent City Jail, though King County Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Dan Donohoe said they expect he’ll be transferred to the Regional Justice Center in Kent.

Roberts is scheduled to be formally charged at a hearing today.

Police said the King County Prosecutor’s Office is looking at charges of first-degree murder, illegal possession of a firearm and disarming an officer. Killing a police officer could be added as an aggravating factor, and aggravated first-degree murder is eligible for the death penalty, according to the prosecutor’s office.

Des Moines police officers David Hamilton and Kevin Montgomery both were working with the Des Moines police department when Officer Steve Underwood was killed in the line of duty in 2001. With black bands covering their badges, they, too, stood at Maher’s memorial site.

They said time is the only thing to help a department overcome the loss of one of its officers. “It scars over,” Hamilton said. “You just respond to calls the way you normally would.”

They said a variety of people have come to the memorial to drop off flowers or extend their condolences. Some cry and don’t say anything, others drop off their flowers and leave, the officers said.

On the green patch of lawn along South 272nd Street in front of the Jade Hair Design salon, a woman approached and asked Heminger where she should leave her flowers. He directed her to the buckets of water under the canopies.

Heminger said the killing of police officers is a disturbing trend that seems to be rising and recent historic events have people’s nerves worn thin. “Their vulnerabilities are showing more and more since Sept. 11,” he said. “People are coming up in tears.”

The Des Moines officers expressed similar sentiments.

“We’ve been to the Christian Faith Center three times in two-and-a-half years,” Hamilton said.

Federal Way police have had two department-wide debriefings and a therapist will be made available for the first officers who responded to the scene and for those officers who worked the same shift as Maher, Federal Way Police spokesman Officer Kurt Schwan said. “We’re just trying to be there for each other,” he said.

Maher is the first Federal Way police officer killed in the line of duty.

It’s too soon for the department to evaluate what happened and whether changes in officer response should be made. “We’re still grieving right now,” Schwan said. “It’s hard to address what we’d do differently.”

Chief Anne Kirkpatrick has told department personnel her primary focus will be taking care of Maher’s family and the department.

Kirkpatrick has told grieving officers they don’t have to come to work if they’re unable, Schwan said. Officers from neighboring agencies have offered to help Federal Way police by patrolling in the city.

Maher was an eight-year police veteran who transferred to the Federal Way Police Department seven months ago from the Honolulu Police Department, where he was an officer for seven years.

While an officer in Honolulu, Maher received a Certificate of Merit by the chief of police after he and his partner pulled a suicidal person over the railing of a high-rise hotel building after the person tried to jump.

Maher also was a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Coast Guard and retired a Senior Special Agent with Coast Guard Investigations.

Maher is survived by his wife and his children.

A public memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Christian Faith Center in SeaTac, located in the 21000 block of International Boulevard.

Federal Way police will drive in procession northbound on Pacific Highway South from the police station to the church starting about 11:45 a.m. tomorrow.

Officers said the public is encouraged to show support along Pacific Highway South during the procession. An account also has been established for the Maher family. Donations can be made to the Maher Family Donation account at any Key Bank branch.

The Federal Way Police Department is accepting letters, gifts and flowers on behalf of the Maher family. They may be sent to The Maher Family, c/o Federal Way Department of Public Safety, 34008 Ninth Ave. S., Federal Way, WA, 98003.

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