Shannon Dunkel, the first police officer on the scene of a residential robbery, parked his patrol car and grabbed his shotgun.
“You have a little bit more distance,” he told a Sedgwick County jury. “And it has a little bit more stopping power. I already knew that it was a home invasion, and they had guns.”
Dunkel took up a position behind a chain-link fence in the backyard of the house next door. He said another officer tripped a motion sensor that activated a floodlight.
“The only cover I had was darkness,” Dunkel recalled. “And now I’m lit up.”
Seconds later, he said, three of the suspects burst through the back door of the house that was being robbed.
“They were in a line, one after another, running out of the back of the house,” Dunkel testified. “I could see that two of the three had a weapon. Once the third one exited the house, I yelled, ‘Police! Stop!’”
It was the third one, he said, who pointed a gun at him.
“I felt threatened,” he testified. “I felt I was going to get shot, so I shot my shotgun.”
Dunkel’s testimony came during the fifth day of the trial of Reginald Vaughn, 21, who is charged with 11 felonies including aggravated assault on a police officer and seven counts of kidnapping. Wichita police said Vaughn was one of four men who forced their way into a home at 1201 W. Crawford on April 13, 2012, and held seven people at gunpoint during a robbery.
One of the alleged robbers, Timothy Collins, 17, was killed.
Friday’s proceedings were disrupted for about 10 minutes when a man who identified himself as an uncle of Collins was ejected from the courtroom after a heated exchange with District Judge Warren Wilbert.
“Nobody gave my nephew a chance to stand trial,” the man shouted before the judge ordered him out of the courtroom.
The uncle’s comments were made outside the presence of the jury as Wilbert was admonishing members of the audience to refrain from making comments or showing facial expressions.
Collins’ mother, Shakeitha Scales, was in the courtroom Friday morning but left after her brother was ejected.
Dunkel told the jury that he was temporarily blinded by the flash of the three shotgun blasts he fired.
“A couple of seconds later, when I could start seeing again, I could see that everybody was on the ground,” he said.
Another officer fired seven rounds from a handgun, but it wasn’t clear from testimony that any of those shots struck any of the suspects.
Dunkel, who has been on the police force for more than 17 years, told the jury that he never before had to use deadly force.
“I had never had to shoot my gun at anybody – not even a dog,” he said. “To be honest, I never thought I would have to.”
Defense lawyer Mark Sevart challenged Dunkel’s account during cross-examination.
“You shot him in the back, didn’t you?” Sevart asked at one point.
“No, I did not,” Dunkel said.
“You didn’t shoot somebody in the leg to disable them, to knock them down. You shot at their heads, didn’t you?” Sevart asked.
“No,” Dunkel replied.
“You didn’t fire rubber bullets at these guys, did you?”
“You didn’t shoot tear gas at these guys, did you?”
“You fired the most powerful weapon at your disposal, didn’t you?”
“I wanted them to stop,” Dunkel said.
Prosecutor C.J. Rieg then asked Dunkel what he was aiming at.
“The center mass area – the part I had access to,” he said.
“Do you shoot people in the leg to stop them?” Rieg asked.
“We don’t shoot people in the legs or the arms or fingers or toes,” Dunkel said.
“When you believe you’re going to get shot, or you believe someone else is going to get shot, you shoot to stop,” he said.
Sevart told the jury in his opening statement that they would hear a videotape that showed that police did not identify themselves as officers before opening fire. That tape was recorded by a miniature camera that another officer was wearing as he was standing in front of the house.
Although the sound of the gunfire was heard clearly on the tape when it was played to the jury Friday, the tape did not pick up the sound of officers ordering the suspects to stop.