Families of two people killed by Wichita police share their stories

07/19/2012 5:00 AM

08/06/2014 8:36 AM

After each of eight police shootings since October, Wichita police called news conferences to say their officers had no choice but to fire. They killed five people. Nine more were wounded.

Police explained their actions in extensive briefings after each shooting.

But families of two of the five dead came forward on Thursday with their own briefings. They say police seem to be shooting people at an alarming rate in Wichita, and that killing their loved ones was unnecessary.

DeJuan Colbert, 27, was killed Oct. 30 while robbing a Dollar General store. Police shot him 13 times, his mother said.

“I know my son was in the wrong when he robbed that store,” said DeJuan’s mother, Doris Johnson. “But they shot 13 holes through my baby. Was shooting him 13 times really necessary?”

Police spokesman Doug Nolte declined comment, saying the cases are still under investigation. At some point the Sedgwick County district attorney will decide whether the officers involved acted legally.

The shooting of Karen Jackson

The story police told after officers shot Karen Jackson on July 10 was that she came at them with a whiskey bottle and a fire igniter in one hand, and a knife in the other, stabbing herself in the chest and calling out “shoot me.” The two officers fired, Chief Norman Williams said the next day, after they backed up across North Spruce Street, yelling all the way for her to drop the weapon. When she got within five feet, they fired.

The hole in that story, said Jackson’s daughter, Tyra Williams, is that her mother, 45, was a church-going disabled grandmother with a back so much in pain and legs so unsteady “that she couldn’t even pick up her own grandchildren.” Had the officers used a Taser on her, or wrestled with her, the fight would have ended peacefully in seconds, she said.

She did drink. “Some days she drank a lot,” Williams said. But Williams said the police story paints Jackson as either formidably dangerous, or suicidal. She was neither, not even with a knife in hand, Williams said. What’s more, Williams and her family members said, the police failed to mention that besides the bottle and the knife and the igniter, they were told Jackson was also carrying her purse.

“I’ve tried to re-create what the police said she did,” said Malaka Day, Jackson’s daughter-in-law. She put her own purse on one arm, and picked up several items off the table of her living room—soda cans, small bottles. “Okay, here’s the purse, here’s the igniter, here’s the knife, and the bottle,” she said, her hands and one arm full. “How can you stab yourself while loaded up like this, let alone stab anybody else?”

Williams got to the scene of the shooting minutes after it happened, sprinting past officers who yelled at her to stop. She stepped up on the back bumper of the ambulance and got one last look, sobbing at what she saw: Her mother was still alive, her blood-soaked chest heaving as she fought to breathe, Williams said. The funeral home told her later her mother was shot four times.

Jackson had troubles with her husband, Williams said, but had started her fatal encounter by showing up at his house at in the 700 block of North Spruce. She had a court order compelling him to stay away from her, so when he found her in his house, he backed out, called 911 and told responding officers he didn’t want to violate his order. The two officers walked up to the house, with a final warning from the husband that Jackson had “mental problems.”

“She was bipolar, and that’s a disorder that I guess you could say was a mental problem,” Williams said.

“But she was also so nice to everybody that she wouldn’t even let us get rid of the bugs,” Day said. “I think the police told the story to cover up the way they murdered her.”

The shooting of DeJuan Colbert

Police said they shot DeJuan Colbert after he came at them with a knife outside the Dollar General Store at Pawnee and Meridian. Colbert, 27, his brother Ajalon, 17, and Kenneth Lee Turner Jr. had entered the store to rob it, with other customers inside.

Police said three officers came to the entrance, and shot DeJuan when he charged them.

DeJuan should not have been there, Doris Johnson said of her son. What’s worse, she said, is that he dragged his younger brother along for the robbery, and Ajalon Johnson at age 17 is now slated for 118 months in prison — nine years — for the Dollar General robbery and other charges. DeJuan is dead; Turner was sentenced to 71 months.

But Doris Johnson said Ajalon told her, while in custody, that DeJuan had dropped the knife and yelled “I give up,” just before police opened fire.

“They took something from us we can never get back,” she said.

Johnson said she tossed and turned in bed the night her son died, calling his cellphone, getting no answer. She was terrified; she said he’d robbed stores before, and she thought he might be doing it again. At 4 a.m. Wichita homicide detectives knocked. She remembers them saying, “He waved a knife at us, and we killed him.”

“Get out,” she said she told them.

The funeral home told her they found 13 bullet holes in DeJuan, she said; his younger sister, Chanita Colbert, sitting beside her mother at their home in south Wichita on Thursday, said she went to the store after her brother was killed and saw 15 to 20 bullet holes in the door and walls of the store entrance.

Johnson and her daughter, Colbert, said police shootings have gotten out of hand, starting with DeJuan’s killing in October. Johnson decided to speak out after hearing about Jackson’s killing, though she has never met that family. They said the circumstances of the Jackson shooting look wrong: police officers, wearing body armor, shooting a woman who was far less formidably armed. It might have been possible to Taser her, Johnson said, as they also believe police should have used a Taser to stop DeJuan.

“He was just a little guy, only about 5-feet-6,” Colbert said of her brother. “They said he got within a foot of them when they shot him; if that’s true, why not just knock him down instead? It wouldn’t have taken much.”

Both shootings look excessive, Johnson said. Multiple officers fired many shots at people carrying knives.

“My son is not getting any justice,” she said.

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