10/21/2014

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Charges dropped against man accused of shooting at officers

Charges dropped against man accused of shooting at officers
YAKIMA, Wash. -- All charges have been dropped against a man suspected of shooting at police almost three years ago.

A Yakima County Superior Court judge says Lance Nanamkin is incompetent to stand trial. That ends three years of trying to put him in prison.

It started with a high-speed chase on a summer night; it ended with about 70 bullets flying and Nanamkin in a wheelchair.

Nanamkin sat in the corner of the courtroom Thursday, still wheelchair-bound.

The prosecutor and the defense attorney both asked the judge to dismiss the litany of charges against him. KIMA spoke with Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney Jim Hagarty, who says he had no choice.

It wasn't supposed to end this way for prosecutors.

"No prosecutor wants to put that type of individual back out on the street," said Hagarty.

It began with a 20-mile chase from Toppenish to Yakima three years ago; then, a violent shootout downtown - one that investigators say Lance Nanamkin caused.

In court, Nanamkin sat in the corner in his wheelchair with his head down as the prosecutor made a stunning request to drop the charges.

Prosecutors based their request on their own evaluation of Namakin's mental state. It found his traumatic brain injury rendered him incompetent.

"We would all agree that he obviously has some disabilities now due to the shooting and his bad choices,” said Yakima Police Department Capt. Jeff Schneider. “So, he's going to live with those consequences for the rest of his life."

Hagarty says he still has doubts. He told KIMA surveillance conducted by police after the shootout showed Nanamkin acting differently.

"You're not responsive when you're doing an evaluation, you're not responsive when you're in court, but when you're in the front seat of your car driving around with your family, you're smiling and looking around and grabbing drinks and everything. From my standpoint, yeah, I don't buy that."

To get both sides, we called Nanamkin's attorney. He said the results pleased him and that Nanamkin's brother hopes police will leave his family alone.

"There's no controls on him,” said Hagarty. “Nobody's going to be babysitting. Nobody's going to be watching him. If he decides to pick up a gun someday, even in his state, we don't know what's going to happen."

If Nanamkin had been found fit for trial, he would have faced a third strike and life in prison without parole.

Technically, this doesn't have to be the end. Because the judge dismissed the charges without prejudice, prosecutors can re-file the same charges within the statute of limitations or different charges if new evidence comes to light.

Here's a look at how we got to this point in this wild case:

Lance Nanamkin was a known gang member and critically injured during that high-speed chase in August 2011. He recovered in a Seattle hospital.

Nanamkin was released two months later while authorities considered how to pursue the case, given his condition. Yakima faced taking responsibility for his skyrocketing medical bills.

He was ordered to go through a mental evaluation. In early 2013, YPD indicated that Eastern State Hospital ruled Nanamkin was incompetent to stand trial and all charges against him would be dropped.

Three months later, prosecutors told KIMA they weren't giving up on the case. Another mental evaluation was scheduled last summer.

That leads us to Friday's decision that dismissed the charges without prejudice, Nanamkin found incompetent to stand trial.
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