KITTITAS — Kittitas Police Officer Benito Chavez was welcomed back to work Monday following his recovery from being injured in an exchange of gunfire with a suspect on March 19.
Fifty people, including many law enforcement and fire personnel, gathered inside Kittitas City Hall to show support for Chavez and to remember Kittitas County Sheriff’s Deputy Ryan Thompson, who was shot and killed in the incident. Chavez was shot in the leg.
“I think about Ryan a lot,” Chavez said. “You never really meet a lot of people like that. What he did that night I think about all the time because he’s the only reason I saw it through the day.”
Chavez accepted a thin blue line flag that was signed by members of law enforcement agencies throughout the country. The flag began its trip carried by Master Sgt. Mitch Kriebel who embarked on a 31-mile training exercise in Wisconsin while carrying a 35-pound rucksack.
Chavez said at a news conference that he is walking with a cane and is doing physical therapy three times a week. Surgeons inserted a metal rod from his hip to his knee following the shooting.
Chavez said he is expected to do desk work at first but hopes to quickly build back his strength to get back to normal duties such as patrolling the streets of Kittitas.
“Right now I’m just trying to build muscles to be able to walk,” Chavez said. “It’s weird when it’s taken away from you, but definitely looking forward to being 100 percent and being back on the road.”
When asked if he had any hesitation returning to work, Chavez said after the shooting he’s come to realize he can’t always worry about the what-ifs, and moving forward he intends to take it one day at a time.
“I think every police officer, regardless if it’s their first day or their last day before retirement, they’re always thinking about that moment when things could backfire; now it’s only ever more present in my mind,” Chavez said.