Taxpayers spent $600K treating suspects in police shootouts

BELLINGHAM -- Emergency medical care is essentially a right, even if you are accused of attempting to kill police officers.

This week the Whatcom County council gave authorization for $600,000 in medical care reimbursement costs for two suspects connected to violent crimes earlier this year.

In one, a gas station attendant was held up before the suspect led police on a chase, firing at officers along the way.

A few weeks later, police say they were fired on by a man with a shotgun at a motel. Both were hurt, but they cannot afford to pay for the emergency room, so taxpayers get the $600,000 bill.

"There's a real unpleasantness to having to pay that money for these two characters," said councilman Ken Mann.

He said there is a balance to moral obligation but that the payments do not pass a common sense test. Sheriff Bill Elfo agrees.

"It is very distasteful to have to pay for the medical costs of people that attempt to murder our police officers and terrorize our citizens," he said.

Elfo said state law requires cities and counties pay for medical care for the needy, in this case extensive surgeries.

"That is a terrible burden on local taxpayers," he said.

Mann wishes the money could be spent elsewhere.

"It's frustrating to shell out six hundred grand for them when we're struggling to find $50,000 for us to give to the food bank and other worthy causes," he said.

The suspects are both in the Whatcom County jail and they are still receiving some medical care.