William “Billy” Langfitt ran down a Spanaway street in his socks, yelling and banging on passing cars while clutching a letter about his recently deceased grandfather.
His loved ones later said the 28-year-old was unarmed and suffering from an apparent mental breakdown sparked by stress from losing his job and his grandfather's death.
When a Pierce County sheriff’s deputy arrived at 252nd Street East and Mountain Highway East, Naomi Powers said her boyfriend "looked like a scared animal."
Powers and other witnesses said Langfitt ran toward the deputy and dove into the driver's seat of the patrol car.
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Deputy Colby Edwards shot Langfitt, killing him.
"The deputy was concerned because the patrol car was running and had a rifle in it,” sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said. “He (Langfitt) obviously wasn’t in the right state of mind and the deputy knew he could have killed somebody.”
Langfitt’s loved ones held a press conference Friday in Tacoma to dispute the Sheriff’s Department's initial account of the incident and to plea for better training for authorities responding to mental health emergencies.
Investigative reports and an interview with Powers give this account:
Langfitt was watching a movie with Powers at his Elk Plain home March 16 when he had a panic attack and tried to wake up his roommate's children. Powers decided to take Langfitt to her home before driving to Oregon to visit his parents the next day.
Less than five minutes after getting into the car, Langfitt grabbed at the steering wheel and honked the horn before kicking off his flip flops and climbing out the window, convinced people from his former job were following him.
Powers called 911 and told the dispatcher she had a “mentally ill friend that needs some assistance,” according to a 911 recording.
She then can be heard trying to calm him down and then screaming at him to "stop" and "get away."
Powers told the dispatcher Langfitt initially had a folding knife, but said three times she now had his knife.
She and Langfitt were standing face to face with their hands on each other’s shoulders, she said Friday.
"I was trying to reach him and tell him he was loved," she said "I wasn’t in danger. I just wanted to get him help."
She followed the dispatcher's suggestion to lock herself in her car and then followed Langfitt as he ran down 252nd Street East toward Mountain Highway East. Powers said he approached another car, but did so because he wanted to tell the driver about his grandfather.
Seconds later, shots are fired.
Witnesses said Langfitt charged down the street and toward the deputy who was just arriving.
Edwards fired several times as Langfitt leaped into the patrol car.
Langfitt was pronounced dead at the scene.
Powers said a deputy ordered her to wait in her car and not take photos or make phone calls for two hours as they investigated the shooting. She said she asked twice for a chaplain, but never got to speak to one, and that she could see Langfitt’s foot from where she sat.
“I was just in so much shock,” she said Friday, clutching a stuffed elephant Langfitt had given her as a Valentine's Day present. “I called for help and you killed him."
Edwards, 27, was placed on administrative leave, which is standard procedure after an officer-involved shooting. This is his second shooting since he joined the department in November 2015.
Edwards was one of five deputies who opened fire April 14, 2017, on a suspected carjacker who crashed a stolen vehicle in Frederickson and emerged from the burning wreckage holding a gun. Prosecutors ruled the shooting was justified.
The Sheriff's Department and Prosecutor's Office are investigating Langfitt's death.
“I want people to know my son had value,” said Langfitt's father, Bill. “If one positive comes out of this, I want to see action taken — whether it is laws or additional training — to improve how authorities respond to mental health emergencies. If one person is helped by whatever action is taken, then my son’s death will be vindicated.”