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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wichita police give details of weekend shooting involving officer

By Roy Wenzl
The Wichita Eagle

At first, when the two police officers showed up at his door at 4 a.m. on Sunday morning, Troy Lanning Sr. thought they just wanted help tracking down Troy Jr., who had failed to report to state officers supervising him after his release from prison. So he got names and numbers out of his home phone for them, told them the names of his son’s friends. But then he asked, “So you have him in custody?”

They said no, and suggested he sit down. And when he froze in place for a moment, they asked him again.

Police on Monday revealed that they killed 24-year-old Troy Lanning Jr. on Sunday after Lanning, after a car chase, put his hand in a bag of belongings and appeared to aim it toward the officer in a threatening manner.

The officer confronted him in a backyard in south Wichita after Lanning and three other people led police on a seven-minute high-speed chase from an area where a drive-by shooting had been reported. But no gun was found in the bag Lanning was carrying, or in the stolen vehicle he rode in during the chase. And Lanning Sr., and several of his son’s friends, gathered on Monday afternoon and said there was no way anybody would have any good reason to shoot him. Lanning Sr. said he has already talked with a lawyer and is considering whether to sue the Wichita Police Department for his son’s death. He said he believes officers could have used a Taser on his son, or sent a K-9 unit dog to run him down, rather than shoot him.

Deputy Police Chief Tom Stolz described how the confrontation happened:

At 11:56 p.m. on Saturday, police dispatchers sent officers to a report of a drive-by shooting in the 4600 block of South Charles, south of I-235 and McArthur. Dispatchers told the officers to look for a white vehicle.

An officer driving into the area, going eastbound on 45th Street South, saw a white vehicle pass him while going the other direction. The officer turned around, and saw it speed away. The driver refused to stop after the officer turned on his lights and sirens.

The chase lasted seven minutes, Stolz said, and ended when the white vehicle drove up over a curb at 35th and Everett, damaging a wheel. Witnesses and the officer saw four people bail out of the vehicle, three men and a woman. The officer chased one of the men, Lanning, yelling at him to stop. Lanning climbed over a privacy fence; the officer followed.

The officer, a nine-year veteran of the Police Department, confronted Lanning in a backyard, and told him to stop reaching into a bag he was carrying. Lanning continued going through the bag, and at one point the officer thought Lanning raised the bag up in a threatening manner. The officer fired several shots at Lanning, hitting him.

Other officers from the Police Department, the Sedgwick County Sheriff’s Office and the Kansas Highway Patrol blocked off streets and “locked down about eight or ten blocks of the neighborhood,” Stolz said. They caught one other man they think was in the white vehicle.

Lanning was taken to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, where he was pronounced dead.

Investigators found no weapon, either in Lanning’s bag of belongings or in the white vehicle he was riding in.

Stolz said he thinks Lanning tried to evade police because a records check on him showed that he was an absconder from the Kansas Department of Corrections, and also had an outstanding warrant in Sedgwick County for failing to register as an offender.

In the white vehicle, investigators found items stolen a few hours earlier during a burglary in the 2600 block of West Newell. The vehicle itself was stolen sometime before the chase.

Lanning Sr. said his son had a criminal history, and that it’s possible he might have been involved in a burglary. His son had served time for a conviction as a juvenile for taking indecent liberties with a child. That case, though it required his son to register with the state as a sex offender, was what Lanning Sr. called a “Romeo and Juliet” situation, meaning that there was consent. But under the law, having had sex with a female younger than 14, his son did three years in jail in a juvenile facility in Topeka, he said.

There were later charges, the father said, for burglary and theft, and as police pointed out on Monday, his son was wanted as an absconder from the state prison system. Lanning Sr. said his son failed to register as a sex offender as required, and failed to take several classes requires of him during his probationary period. “He did a lot of things he shouldn’t have done, and there were times when you couldn’t tell Troy anything,” Lanning Sr. said.

Still, the father and the son’s friends said, there was no good reason to shoot him to death. “I think it was a wrongful shooting,” Lanning Sr. said. He said his son had no history of violence, and can’t imagine why the officer who killed his son thought that his son was trying to threaten him with a bag that he believes contained nothing more than clothes and shampoo.

Victoria Harper, a sometime girlfriend of Troy Lanning Jr., said Troy was “a big baby, more sensitive and needy than most females.” She said he was a good and decent person, and “a wimp” rather than anyone violent. “I knew him for 14 years, have loved him that whole time, and he never once raised his voice at me.”

She and several of Lanning Jr.’s friends also said they trusted him to babysit their small children, even though he’d served time for indecent liberties. He would never have harmed any children, they said.

But Stolz said an initial look at the shooting indicates to him that the officer acted properly in shooting the man.

“After a confrontation like this, we sometimes wonder why people do the things they do,” Stolz said. He declined to say what was in the bag that the man kept rummaging in as the officer told him to drop it; he said only that it contained “personal items.”

“All we can expect from our officers is reasonable behavior,” Stolz said. He said the officer was sent to the scene of a shooting, at night, a dangerous situation. “It’s reasonable to expect to confront a weapon in a situation like that,” he said. “The vehicle ran, which is not reasonable; they led the officer on a seven-minute chase, not reasonable; and after they wrecked, they ran, which is not reasonable. And then the man refused repeated verbal commands to stop running.”

“The officer was doing the job he was sent to do,” Stolz said. “It appears we have policy and procedure properly followed here.”

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation will handle the investigation of the shooting, and turn over information to the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office, which will determine whether the officer obeyed the law. The officer has been put on administrative leave.

Lanning was not a documented gang member, but the man arrested after the chase is, Stolz said. That man was booked into jail on suspicion of possession of drugs.

Lanning Sr., a 41-year-old handyman, said he is trying to work out funeral arrangements, but that his son’s mother, who he is separated from, has been too grief-stricken to help with the details.

His son was making some efforts to tun his life around, Lanning Sr. said. He diligently applied for jobs, and got one at small factory in Haysville. He did not want to go back to jail or prison. He even talked about going to church this past Sunday with the three women friends who now sat in his father’s house, mourning the loss of a friend.

“He’d been telling us that he was tired of always having to look over his shoulder because he’d absconded, and that he wanted to get his life in order,” Harper said. “I don’t know if he was kidding about going to church when he brought it up on Saturday, but I think he really did want to go. But Sunday never came for him.”

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