Spokane prosecutor decides against charges in death of former Port Angeles man
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Bill Berger sits at a table he and friends and family set up at Port Angeles City Pier on Friday afternoon to distribute information about the importance of crisis-intervention training for law enforcement officers. Photo by Jeremy Schwartz/Peninsula Daily News
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Will Berger

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

SPOKANE — The father of a former Port Angeles man who died in Spokane after a confrontation with deputies said Friday he is not surprised by the decision of the Spokane County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office not to seek criminal charges against the deputies.

Bill Berger of Port Angeles said he does wonder why it took 13 months to decide that no charges should be filed.

Prosecutors said that Spokane Sheriff’s deputies Shawn Audie and Steve Paynter acted appropriately during a confrontation with Will Berger, 34, on June 6, 2013, The Spokesman-Review of Spokane reported Thursday.

Bill Berger said the decision will not stop him from continuing to promote mandatory crisis-intervention training for law enforcement agencies across the state, training that the elder Berger believes could have saved his son’s life.

“My focus is saving people’s lives from here on out,” he said as he manned a table at City Pier in Port Angeles, seeking signatures on a petition for state legislation to mandate at least 40 hours annually of the training.

“I can do nothing about my son’s life,” he added.

“I can try to honor his death by doing something positive.”

Deputies shot Will Berger, a Port Angeles High School and Peninsula College graduate, with a stun gun five times and placed him in a neck hold after they investigated a report of a disturbance at a Spokane gym, according to The Spokesman-Review of Spokane and Sheriff’s Office accounts.

He was taken by ambulance to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, where he died the next morning.

His death was described as a homicide on his death certificate, with contributing factors listed as oxygen deprivation and “application of restraint measures.”

The struggle was in a parking lot across the street from a gym where Berger had just completed a workout, said his father, who added that his son had had manic episodes occasionally since he was 15.

The case is the last outstanding officer-involved investigation from 2013, the newspaper said.

Five men died at the hands of Spokane area law enforcement last year, and the prosecutor’s office ruled all of the actions justified, The Spokesman-Review said.

As of Saturday, Bill Berger said he had visited seven counties in southwest Washington and several law enforcement agencies within each to find out what training they provide now.

He said he’s been pleased with what he has learned so far.

Berger said he also heard from police chiefs who said they would ideally provide more crisis-intervention training if they had the money in their budgets for it.

Part of Berger’s travels also includes bicycling between 25 and 30 miles in each of the state’s counties.

On the Fourth of July, Berger biked along the Olympic Discovery Trail from City Pier to the 7 Cedars Casino in Blyn and set up an informational table outside the casino.

There he said he collected at least 20 signatures in support of state legislation to mandating crisis-intervention training.

Berger will do the same in every county and city he visits.

“I think we’re going to end up collecting a lot of signatures,” Berger said.

Berger said he hopes to visit most of the state’s counties by July 20 and get to the remainder in September.

More information on his trip and how to make a donation can be found at www.willbfund.org, where Berger’s routes and distance traveled will be announced daily, he said.

“You can follow me around the state,” he said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 05. 2014 9:15PM
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