Editor's note: An earlier version of this story contained incorrect information from Doris Johnson.
The use of deadly force by three Wichita police officers in responding to the threat posed by a robber last fall was not unlawful, Sedgwick County District Attorney Nola Foulston ruled Friday.
DeJuan Colbert, 28, was shot 15 times as he came at three officers with a raised steak knife during a robbery of the Dollar General store at 2427 W. Pawnee shortly before 10 p.m. Oct. 31. He was pronounced dead later that night at a local hospital.
Colbert ignored commands to drop the knife and get on the floor, then came “within inches” of the first officer into the store with his knife, a report on the incident states.
“These acts by DeJuan Colbert clearly posed a deadly and imminent threat to the officers and the civilian employees inside the Dollar General store,” Foulston’s 12-page report concludes. “Therefore, it was reasonable and justifiable, under these circumstances, for each officer to use deadly force against the aggressions of Colbert, who had engaged himself in this lethal encounter, to protect their own lives and the lives of others.”
Someone at the Dollar General called 911 at 9:57 p.m., the report states. No one talked to the dispatcher, but the call taker heard a male in the background giving orders for someone to “open them up.”
Other comments as well led the dispatcher to believe that a robbery was taking place. Multiple officers responded to the robbery-in-progress call, and three arrived about a minute later.
The first officer to approach the front glass doors of the Dollar General saw a man with a bandanna covering his face at the register area with an employee. He also saw a second man, also wearing a bandanna over his face, moving toward the back of the store.
The officer alerted other officers on his radio of his observations. As the three officers entered the front door of the store and confronted the man at the register, he turned and charged toward them with a plastic bag outstretched in his left hand and a knife in his right hand.
All three officers fired their handguns at the suspect, who was hit numerous times. He ran past the officers out the front door but fell as he exited, the report states.
Two other suspects, also armed with knives and wearing bandannas, were found inside the store and arrested without incident.
Colbert was taken by ambulance to Via Christi Hospital on St. Francis, where he was pronounced dead. The other suspects were subsequently identified as Kenneth Turner, 30, and Ajalon Johnson, 17. Johnson is a younger brother of Colbert.
Doris Johnson, the mother of DeJuan Colbert and Ajalon Johnson, received a copy of the district's attorney's report on Friday, which contained copies of photos taken from the store video.
"My child did not have a chance when they shot him down," she said. "He did not have a chance at all."
On the advice of their attorney, Colbert’s family declined to comment further.
Between interviews with witnesses and evidence gathered during the investigation, the report states, “a clear set of facts emerges.”
The three officers who fired shots are not identified in the report.
The first through the doors was a three-year veteran of the force. Once he entered the store, he ordered the suspect to the ground. But Colbert turned and came at him instead.
Because he could not see Colbert’s hands, the officer moved laterally and began firing. Colbert came within inches of him with the steak knife.
The second officer, a 12-year veteran, said in the report he believed Colbert was armed because of the first officer’s actions. He backed up and began firing at Colbert. He kept firing until Colbert fell.
The third officer, a four-year veteran of the department, said in the report that he wasn’t sure who fired the first shot and was concerned that Colbert was firing at the first officer. As he looked through the door, he saw a man wearing a bandanna charging at the first officer and heard a second shot.
Still not sure if the suspect had a gun and was firing, the third officer began firing at Colbert. Unable to see the first officer, the third officer was concerned he had been shot. He also thought Colbert might be wearing body armor because he did not go down despite being hit several times.
When Colbert finally fell outside the store, the third officer saw the steak knife he had been wielding.
The report states Colbert’s “aggressive behavior” was “an apparent attempt to escape.”
State law allows all people, including law enforcement officers, to defend themselves against unlawful force. Law enforcement officers are justified in using force likely to cause death or great bodily harm when they reasonably believe that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to themselves or others, the report states.
Contributing: Roy Wenzl of The Eagle.