After more than a month of investigation, the report is in on the 20-hour standoff in Hoquiam which led to police killing a man who had shot a Hoquiam officer and barricaded himself inside his Aberdeen Avenue home.
The report contains a full account of the events of March 27 and 28, from the arrest of Nina Marlowe on an old California warrant for fraud, to the return to arrest her husband, Rick, on the same charge when he shot Hoquiam Police Sgt. Jeff Salstrom, to the early morning showdown where Marlowe was ultimately killed.
Grays Harbor County Prosecutor Stew Menefee reviewed the report and concluded that all the officers involved acted appropriately in their use of force and in the shooting of Rick Marlowe.
“My office will not be filing nor seeking to file any criminal charges against any of the officers involved,” he wrote.
Many questions still remain even now: Why did a man sought on a fraud charge resort to deadly force to resist arrest? What caused the fire that destroyed the Marlowes’ home? But the lengthy report issued by the Region II Critical Incident Investigation Team offers the most complete account of events to date.
A simple warrant service
Rick and Nina Marlowe had been wanted since 2004 when Nina posed as Rick’s ex-wife in order for the couple to complete a sale on their Sacramento home. The Hoquiam Police Department was contacted March 26 to serve a warrant on the couple, believed to be living at 2801 Aberdeen Avenue in Hoquiam.
Officers were greeted at the door by a man who claimed to be Ray Mahailovich, and who presented a genuine Washington state driver’s license with that name.
He told the officers they hadn’t heard from Rick Marlow in years and believed he was dead. He did lead them to Nina Marlowe, who they arrested and brought to jail.
But after that first contact, something didn’t sit right with Sgt. Salstrom.
“There was just a gut feeling that something wasn’t right,” he later told detectives.
He noticed the date of birth Mahailovich provided was exactly the same as Nina Marlowe’s. He did some more checking with the Sacramento County District Attorney, and found that Mahailovich’s Minnesota Social Security number was issued before 1951, despite his 1959 birthday.
They exchanged photos, calling in Marlowe’s ex-wife, Cathy, who positively identified him from his Washington license photo. She even warned them he was probably using a false name.
Salstrom returned to serve the other warrant March 27, along with Officer Phillip High, Detective David Blundred and Detective Sgt. Shane Krohn. Salstrom noted in his interview with detectives after the shooting they nearly didn’t bring the detectives — they had no reason to think they’d need the backup. They ended up coming to watch the doors in case Marlowe bolted.
Remembering Marlowe mentioning he was hard of hearing and may not hear knocking at the front door, Salstrom chose to enter through a side door, a choice which may have saved his life.
High noted in his interview later that Marlowe seemed prepared for a confrontation at the front of the house, and coming in the side door may have caught him off guard.
Salstrom entered with High close behind and Krohn and Blundred set up outside the house. The side door was open, and he walked in, at first calling out for Ray.
Marlowe came out of a small office near the front door, and as they approached each other in the living room, Salstrom recalled, “I said, ‘Rick, we know who you are, you’re under arrest.’ And he starts to turn, and he says, ‘No, no, no,’ as he’s turning.”
Salstrom reached out to grab his arm, missing and getting a handful of shirt. He went to sweep Marlowe’s legs, but he somehow dodged that as well. Finally, Salstrom drew his Taser, but Marlowe had just reached the office, which was separated from the living room by a curtain, and the Taser’s barbs apparently were tangled in the fabric.
“All of the sudden, he spins to his right and pop, pop, pop — he used three rounds off before you know, just real quick. And I’m stepping to my left and I think that’s in the first few rounds, I think, is when he hit me in the hip, because I kind of felt the sting,” Salstrom said in his statement.
Salstrom and High both returned fire, circling with Marlowe as they retreated to the kitchen, Salstrom shouting to High to get to cover. Salstrom fired through the corner of the plaster wall, “just to try to keep him where he was, keep him locked down in that position. Because I knew he had nowhere to go, his only option was out the front door where we had detectives, or back to Phil.”
“That’s when I think he hit my microphone, because I remember it kind of falling off,” Salstrom said.
Salstrom fired ten rounds, High fired three. Because of the house fire later, it’s unclear how many times Marlowe fired his but two bullets were fired into an apartment across the street which matched that type of gun. They were too damaged to be positively matched to that specific weapon.
At some point, Salstrom’s wrist was also grazed by a bullet, but his wounds were shockingly superficial given that he was standing fewer than 10 feet from his attacker for most of their exchange.
“My training kicked in and I just did what I felt like I needed to do,” Salstrom said.
Hoquiam Police Chief Jeff Myers offered high praise for Salstrom’s actions that day.
“He did an outstanding job,” Myers said. “We expect that of our officers, but he went beyond that as a sergeant, making sure things were getting done, organized a response.”
Salstrom managed to call out a warning that shots were fired before his radio was hit, then called dispatch on his cell phone and delivered a remarkably complete and calm report of what had happened, where the subject was and his physical description. He specified who to call for backup and where to stage aid.
“My radio’s been shot, it doesn’t work,” he explains to the dispatcher.
“Your radio was shot?” she asks with surprise.
“I think I’ve been hit, but I’m not sure, I’m doing OK right now,” he continues.
Within five minutes, a command center had been set up a few blocks away, Aberdeen Police had responded as backup, and several off-duty Hoquiam officers had been called in to handle patrol.
Salstrom and High stayed in the relative safety of the kitchen, but wouldn’t leave the building.
“Because I knew where he was, and I knew we had him locked down and I didn’t want to give him the house,” Salstrom said.
They talked with Marlowe, who told them he had been shot and expected to be dead in 20 minutes. They repeatedly asked him to come out with his hands visible so they could get him help, but Marlowe told them to leave him. They stayed put, and eventually negotiators arrived, along with protective shields in case Marlowe began firing again.
Salstrom didn’t want to leave the scene despite his injuries.
“I said, ‘No, I’m good, I’m going to stay.’ … I wasn’t going to leave, it was my scene, it was my thing. I didn’t want to leave,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Deputy Chief Don Wertanen “literally grabbed me by the collar and drug me out of the house,” Salstrom said. He was treated at Grays Harbor Community Hospital and released.
There was no concern about a bullet lodged in his hip: When he took off his duty belt in the ambulance, the slug just fell to the floor.
Later, the Washington State Patrol provided “ballistic blankets,” which were put up on the wall to re-enforce it against any shooting.
Marlowe asked for water, and after consultation with an emergency medicine doctor, they allowed him to have a bottle of water. At one point, Myers reported, Marlowe even came out into the kitchen area to get something, but never raised his weapon. The officers watched but did not fire.
“They displayed remarkable restraint,” Myers said. “As Incident Commander, as long as he’s talking and there’s a possibility he’s going to surrender peacefully, we’re going to continue down that road.”
Aberdeen SWAT sent a small reconnaissance robot to verify Marlowe’s injury at about 3 p.m. They warned him they were sending it, and received no response.
When the small robot, which resembles a dumb bell with a tail and an infrared camera, rounded the corner, it saw Marlowe reclined in a chair, apparently relaxing. He notices the robot and starts shooting with his pistol, one shot a direct hit on its camera lens.
At that point, officers withdrew from the house, and continued negotiating over a loudspeaker. They tried to throw a phone to Marlowe, but he refused to use it.
At about 4:30 p.m., Aberdeen SWAT began shooting rounds of tear gas into the house from their armored Bearcat vehicle. Marlowe started shooting through the window and wall, striking the Bearcat’s window, the side of the vehicle and its run-flat tire.
At 8 p.m., State Patrol SWAT took over, continuing the tear gas regimen. Throughout the night, to keep Marlowe distracted, they fired gas, drove their armored vehicles around the house, knocked down the front door and played regular requests for him to surrender over the loudspeaker. No response was heard after what sounded like a muffled shot inside the house.
They sent another Recon Scout robot inside, this one heading upstairs to find Marlowe barricaded in a closet, wearing a hood-style gas mask and an old-fashioned military helmet. He placed a picture frame over this robot, which may have damaged its antennae and disabled it.
Even though he was wearing a gas mask, officers continued sending in tear gas, in case the filter clogged and stopped protecting him — and as a distraction. At 4 a.m., Thurston County SWAT took over.
Stopping the threat
A large WSP Bomb Squad robot had been in place at the foot of the stairs, but its battery needed changed. Thurston County sent its small recon unit to sit in its place.
Through its camera, they saw Marlowe creeping down the stairs.
“The detectives think he heard the noise (from the larger robot leaving), he thought we were coming in,” Myers said.
Thurston County Detective Dave Claridge was operating the robot that morning.
“When he started down the stairs, it appeared to me as someone tiptoeing down the stairs, he was looking both ways as though he thought we were inside the house,” he told detectives.
Claridge watched Marlowe apparently sweeping the house, looking around the first floor with his gun at the ready. He went through an interior door, heading toward the front where officers were stationed. He left that door open just enough for the robot to keep watching his movements.
They deployed flash bang grenades “in an attempt to keep him moving” and off-balance, Claridge explained.
A fire was spotted shortly after that, its source still undetermined. The house was too damaged and partially collapsed to send in fire investigators.
“There’s a lot of supposition. The house went up very fast. Could it have been the flash bang? Could he have spread accelerants? Possibly. … We don’t know,” Myers said.
Marlowe was still in full view of the robot, and appeared to be crawling on his stomach across the entryway, pointed toward the office area where he had apparently gotten his gun initially. A fake book was later found with ammunition inside, which may have been where the gun was hidden.
“It was as though the subject was trying to low crawl across the floor. And I could see the gun. And we saw that, there were several of us that verbally challenged the subject,” Claridge said. They called to him to put down his weapon and surrender.
“My belief is his intent was to get into position that he could return fire or that he could fire at us. He was armed. He had already shot one police officer, shot at the State Patrol SWAT team. He was trying to get into position to shoot at us. And whether that was eventually standing up and walking out and doing that – I wasn’t going to give him an opportunity to do that,” Claridge explained.
A loaded magazine was later found on the desk in the office, which may have also been Marlowe’s goal.
“He continued to try to crawl across. Because of the totality of the circumstances, being in fear for our safety … thats’s when I shot,” Claridge said.
Of the 33 shots fired by the three SWAT members, at least 14 struck Marlowe. He was hit in the head, neck and torso.
“There was a few more moments that went by. And our thoughts changed (to): now we need to get this subject out of the front door. There’s a house that’s on fire,” Claridge said.
Five officers carried Marlowe away from the house, where spurts of flame were already bursting out the front windows six to eight feet, Claridge recalled.
“The suspect dictated the outcome of this incident. We did everything we could throughout the 20 hours to bring it to a peaceful conclusion,” Myers said. Unfortunately, Marlowe apparently made up his mind that “he was giong to use violent physical force to end this.”
Days later, a neighbor got permission to enter the house to gather items for Nina Marlowe and recovered a Colt Mark IV from a closet, along with eight magazines, five loaded with hollow-point bullets. In the main first-floor bedroom, she found a wooden box containing a Beretta 9 mm and four loaded magazines.
Police recovered a box from Rick Marlowe’s truck with a Heritage Rough Rider revolver, a knife and numerous credit cards in his fake name. He had recently emailed his mother and told her to expect a package from him. The house is still unsafe to enter, but Nina Marlowe is listed as the owner and she remains in the Grays Harbor County Jail. She has not yet made arrangements to demolish the house, and it may fall to the city.
Myers said the investigation into Marlowe’s fraudulent activity is ongoing.
“Part of it is just the why. What compels someone to do what they did? Is there some culpability on (Nina Marlowe’s) part in what he did?” Myers said. “Theoretically there could be victims out there that don’t realize the person they were dealing with was not real. … It could be a futile effort, but we’ll assess that as we go.”