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JBLM helicopters at American Lake shot at by man posing as ‘peace officer,’ charges say

Members of the 62nd Civil Engineer Squadron, pack up after installing the new Joint Base Lewis-McChord sign at the entrance of the base Sunday. (Abner Guzman/U.S. Air Force)

A felon posing as a “peace officer” Wednesday evening at American Lake — complete with a badge, handcuffs and gun — fired gunshots at two military helicopters from Joint Base Lewis-McChord, according to charging documents.

No injuries or damage to the aircraft have been reported, JBLM spokesperson Gary Dangerfield told The News Tribune. Court records say Chinook helicopters carrying 31 service members were conducting training exercises.

Andre Wright Jr., 45, was charged Thursday in Pierce County Superior Court with first-degree assault, second-degree unlawful possession of a firearm and possession of a stolen firearm.

At arraignment Thursday afternoon, defense counsel requested that Wright undergo a competency evaluation. Commissioner Craig Adams ordered the defendant held without bail pending its completion.

Court records show Wright has prior convictions for felony criminal mischief with a deadly weapon, failure to register as a sex offender and forgery. Prosecutors wrote in charging papers that Wright had felony charges dismissed in 2016 and 2019 due to competency issues. In each case, he was reportedly referred to Western State Hospital for civil commitment and later released.

Lakewood Police Department officers responded just after 8 p.m. to a park on the lake’s north shore, according to the declaration for determination of probable cause. Multiple callers had reported that a person shot twice at military helicopters. One caller stayed on the line with dispatchers to update them on the shooter’s location.

Arriving officers saw a bystander pointing to the suspect described in 911 calls and approached him. Records state he was on the phone and wearing a multicolored shirt and sunglasses. Officers detained the man, identified as Wright, and frisked him for weapons.

The man had a concealed Glock handgun on his hip, two metal “security” badges and handcuffs in a holster, according to the probable cause document. The gun, which was loaded with 14 rounds, was later confirmed stolen out of Tacoma. Police reported that by the way he had his gear on his belt, Wright appeared as if he was trying to portray himself as “some sort of official peace officer,” records state.

Wright allegedly claimed to be a Lakewood police officer with its “special operations unit.” Police reported he had a detailed story — he also claimed to be the “air commander” of a Pierce County Sheriff’s Department helicopter unit and a commander of an airborne military unit.

“He assured the officers that his ‘personnel number’ would be in the cockpit of the helicopters that were flying overhead,” prosecutors wrote in charging papers. “The defendant then said that he worked for the ‘Department of Defense and Offense’ and was involved with the Marine Corps and said that American Lake was a ‘recently purchased Marine Corps artillery range.'”

Video shot by a bystander showed at least five Lakewood police patrol cars responded to American Lake Park’s public boat launch. The park appeared busy. The video also showed the two helicopters flying low over the water and then departing.

The criminal investigation is ongoing, and prosecutors wrote in charging documents that additional assault charges would be filed once the service members in the helicopters are identified. Dangerfield said JBLM’s Criminal Investigation Division is working with Lakewood police.


(c) 2023 The News Tribune

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