Update: Centralia Police Officer Fires at Fleeing Suspect Near City Hall


Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg talks with officer Steve Howard outside The Chronicle news office after an officer-involved shooting Tuesday morning. (Photo by Pete Caster / pcaster@chronline.com)
Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg talks with officer Steve Howard outside The Chronicle news office after an officer-involved shooting Tuesday morning. (Photo by Pete Caster / pcaster@chronline.com)

At least one gunshot has been fired during a police pursuit in downtown Centralia.

Employees at The Chronicle witnessed an officer firing a shot in the direction of a vehicle on Maple Street near Centralia City Hall.

Officers are now patrolling the area in search of an unknown suspect.

Update 9:59 a.m.:

Officer Steve Howard was the responding officer. The suspect was in Centralia Municipal Court when he attempted to flee, Howard told The Chronicle.

He said the man attempted to hit him with his vehicle as officers tried to prevent him from leaving.

Update: 10:05 a.m.

The suspect — who police have not identified — was in court for a warrant, according to police.

Howard said he was attempting to handcuff him when he broke away and fled to his vehicle.

A portion of Maple Street has been closed as officers search the area.

A shell casing can currently be seen in the center of Maple Street as officers tape off the scene.

More details will be posted to this story as they become available.

Update: 10:10 a.m.

Two contractors working on a nearby house at the corner of Maple and Iron streets said they heard the gunshot and thought it was a tire popping at first.

“We were standing on scaffolding and we saw a blue Subaru or something took off like a bat out of hell,” said Louie Louwien, of Yelm.

His coworker said he heard a weapon discharge, describing it as “muffled sound like it hit the inside of a vehicle.”

Chronicle employee Ronda Barr said she also heard the gunshot and saw the officer run from city hall down Maple Street and heard a “pop.”

“I thought to myself, ‘That was a gunshot,” she said.

Update 10:22 A.M.:

A woman who was in court at the time, Janice Arias, of Chehalis, said the suspect was being detained for a warrant when he fled from police.

She confirmed he was being handcuffed when he broke free.

Update 10:42 A.M.:

Centralia School District officials say no schools are in lockdown at this time as they have not been given an alert from Centralia Police. Edison Elementary School is a four blocks from where the incident took place, but no students are reported to be in any danger.

Update 11 a.m.:

Sign Pro employee Shelleen Lundeen was sitting at the Sign Pro front desk of the Maple Street office when she heard an officer with his arm raised say, “I’m going to shoot.” She saw him approach a blue vehicle that was parked near The Chronicle on West Maple Street.

Lundeen said she heard a little bit of  “chatter” and then the officer shot at the ground.

She said the driver in the blue vehicle sped backwards down West Maple Street toward North Iron Street.

“He floored it,” Lundeen said.

In her upstairs office of The Chronicle Mary Jackson recounted seeing the incident as well. She said she first heard some arguing, but she wasn’t sure if it was outside or in the building.

She’s not exactly what she heard the officer say, but it was either: “I’m going to effin’ kill you” or “I’m going to effin’ shoot you.” Either way, it caused her to jump out of her chair and go to the window where she saw the officer fire one shot below eye level.

Then the car, a dark blue SUV drove fast in reverse down West Maple Street. Before the SUV took off, she said it had looked like it was parked along the street curb.

It is still not clear if the suspect’s vehicle was struck. He has not been apprehended, according to officers.

Update 11:30 a.m.:

Centralia Police Chief Bob Berg said it is unknown if the suspect, Phillip A. Pinotti, 22, of rural Chehalis, was injured by the shot fired by Howard. However, he did say the bullet entered the car, but the entry point is unknown.

Update 11:40 a.m.:

The suspect who fled Centralia Municipal Court this morning has a criminal history. Below are excerpts from recent newspaper reports in The Chronicle:

  • Phillip A. Pinotti, 22, was arrested and booked into jail for suspicion of driving under the influence after his vehicle went off the roadway into a field then fled the scene on the 1200 block of Kresky Avenue in late August.
  • Phillip A. Pinotti, then 21, was cited and released for second-degree negligent driving after a two-vehicle collision on the 2000 block of South Scheuber Road in September 2013, said Sgt. Rob Snaza. Pinotti was driving a 1999 Volkswagen Jetta at a high rate of speed and attempted to pass a 2008 BMW convertible on the left, when a third car, traveling in the opposite lane, came around the corner. Pinotti attempted to swerve into the right lane and clipped the BMW, which caused both vehicles to crash.
  • In July 2012, Phillip A. Pinotti, then 20, was referred to the Lewis County Prosecutor’s Office for alleged minor in possession by the train trestle near Adna.

Update 11:45 a.m.:

More From Police Chief Bob Berg:

Pinotti was in Centralia Municipal Court for a hearing when it was discovered he had an outstanding arrest warrant from Chehalis. Berg said the court’s security officers routinely take subjects into the hallway outside the courtroom to be handcuffed and transferred.

Berg said Pinotti bolted from the officer and got into a car parked on West Maple Street. It is unknown who owns the car.

Pinotti drove the vehicle toward the officer twice before Howard fired one round into the car, Berg said. The driver then drove the car backwards, turned around near the Centralia Rollerdrome and drove northbound on North Iron Street.

Because the incident involves a Centralia police officer, the Lewis County Sheriff’s Office is conducting the investigation. Until it is known if the suspect was injured, whether Howard decides to take a leave of absence will be up to his discretion.

Berg said he doesn’t think law enforcement will have issues locating the suspect because Pinotti is known to officers.

Update 12:30 p.m.:

Lewis County Prosecuting Attorney Jonathan Meyer said a charging decision for all parties involved will be made once the sheriff’s office completes its investigation of the Centralia officer shooting at a vehicle driven by Phillip A. Pinotti, who allegedly tried to hit officer Steve Howard.

Until the investigation is complete, Meyer said he did not want to speculate about possible coming charges.

“It depends what the facts support,” he said.

This is Meyer’s fifth officer-involved shooting case since he took office in 2010. He said in the previous cases, the officers’ decisions to fire their weapons were justified.

Update 12:55 p.m.:

Chehalis Police Sgt. Gary Wilson said the department issued a warrant for Phillip A. Pinotti because he failed to appear for a Dec. 10 court appearance.

Officers had issued Pinotti a citation for third-degree theft on Oct. 30 after he allegedly shoplifted $10 worth of items from Walmart in Chehalis.

Pinotti was in municipal court when it was discovered Chehalis police had a warrant out for his arrest. When an officer tried to handcuff Pinotti, he fled to a vehicle parked on West Maple Street.

Pinotti allegedly tried to hit the officer with his car, and the officer fired a single shot into the vehicle. Pinotti sped away.

See more updates and info on Chronline.com

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