July 12, 2012

Rulings on police shootings to come

Determinations on the justification of police-involved shootings last fall and in mid-January could be reached soon, a spokeswoman for the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office says.

Determinations on the justification of police-involved shootings last fall and in mid-January could be reached soon, a spokeswoman for the Sedgwick County District Attorney’s Office says.

Reviews of the cases and rulings on whether officers were justified in using lethal force do not begin until any court cases connected to the incidents are completed, spokeswoman Georgia Cole said.

That explains why no rulings have been released in connection with DeJuan Colbert, who was shot to death by one or more police officers during a robbery of the Dollar General store at Pawnee and Meridianon the night of Oct. 30, 2011. Authorities have said the officers fired when Colbert, 27, charged at them with a knife.

An accomplice in the robbery, Kenneth Lee Turner Jr., was sentenced in April to 71 months in prison.

When making a ruling on whether an officer-involved shooting is justified, Cole said, the district attorney’s office commonly releases details about the how the incident occurred to provide a basis for the decision.

“We cannot release details that would be part of a criminal case,” Cole said, because doing so could jeopardize a defendant’s right to a fair trial.

There have been five people killed and nine others injured in eight confrontations with police in the past nine months. No officers have been injured.

The delay in reviewing whether officers have been justified in using lethal force occurs whether the case involves someone wounded by police or accomplices who might be part of the same incident in which someone was killed, she said.

Shirley Smith was shot by a Wichita police officer in west Wichita on the night of Jan. 13. She was charged with aggravated battery after police say she started an argument and threatened another woman with a knife in the 500 block of Summitlawn, southeast of Central and Ridge Road.

Smith pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of battery and was placed on probation May 29. A ruling in that incident “should come around before too long,” Cole said.

The most recent officer-involved shooting, in which Karen Jackson was shot to death in the 700 block of North Spruce last Tuesday night, may well be resolved quicker than other reviews because Jackson acted alone and did not survive, Cole said. That means there are no criminal cases to delay the review.

The Kansas Bureau of Investigation has presented information to the district attorney’s office about the officer-involved shooting in Old Town on March 10, in which one person was killed and four others were wounded. But Cole said the office is still waiting on an autopsy report.

Marquez Smart, 23, was shot to death by officers after he opened fire on a crowd on Mosley Street and then refused numerous commands to drop his weapon. Authorities have not said how many of those wounded in the incident were shot by Smart and how many were wounded by bullets fired by police.

Clifford Gustus, 33, who was fired at by police as he reportedly tried to run over them while fleeing a fuel theft on Feb. 4, is set for trial Aug. 6.

Investigators are still waiting for an autopsy report in the death of Troy Lanning, who was shot by an officer on April 1 after he was chased into a residential backyard following a high-speed chase. He placed his hand into a bag and ignored repeated commands to surrender, police have said. Three co-defendants face criminal charges in the case, Cole said.

A ruling in the fatal shooting by police of a 17-year-old boy on April 13 is being delayed because of criminal cases involving his accomplices, Cole said. Bradlee Ohle, 19, is set for a jury trial July 23, Eric Evans, 18, is scheduled for trial beginning Aug. 13 and Reginald Vaughn, 20, is slated for trial on Aug. 27.

Police have not released the victim’s name because he was a juvenile. He was killed and Vaughn and Evans wounded as they ran from a home robbery in the 1200 block of West Crawford, just southwest of Pawnee and Seneca. Vaughn, Evans and Ohle all face numerous charges, including kidnapping and aggravated robbery.

Ohle left the house prior to the arrival of police and was eventually arrested in Salina.

There were two officer-involved shootings on opposite sides of town on the night of June 11.

Michael Westendorff, 40, was shot and wounded by a Wichita police officer near Central and Woodlawn when he pointed an object that looked like a gun at her and then ran toward an Eastborough officer pointing it toward him.

Court records show he is set for a preliminary hearing on July 30 on a charge of aggravated escape from custody and two counts of aggravated assault on a law enforcement officer. Westendorff escaped from the Wichita work release center on May 30. Police were called when motorists saw him jumping into and out of traffic in east Wichita on the night of June 11.

About 45 minutes later in southwest Wichita, Robert McCosh III was shot when he charged an officer with a machete. He is scheduled to go to trial on Aug. 27 on charges of attempted murder and aggravated assault of a law enforcement officer.

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