Mother recounts chaos after officer fired gun in front of her four children
On the evening of Dec. 30, Danielle Maples was making nail polishes with her children. The atmosphere in her home changed when her husband threatened to hurt himself. Maples called 911 to get help.
Then after police arrived – as she and her husband stood outside their home unarmed – she heard two gunshots from inside.
A Wichita police officer fired at her dog – in a small living room occupied by her four children, ages 6 to 10.
Suddenly, the already stressful evening turned into a nightmare.
When the officer shot at the family dog in the same room where her four children were gathered, a bullet fragmented and ricocheted off the concrete floor beneath the carpet where her 9-year-old daughter sat. The girl suffered wounds above her eye. At the hospital, Maples saw a bag with three fragments taken from her daughter’s forehead.
An officer later told the family that “it could have been worse,” she said.
“As a mother, you don’t want to hear that.”
The 28-year-old woman is thankful her daughter’s wounds were minor.
But she remains jolted by the officer’s decision to fire his handgun in a small room holding her four young children: Her 6-year-old son was next to the officer when he fired, she said. One bullet hit the floor a few feet from where her daughter sat.
The officer’s target: a dog described by the family as a 35- to 40-pound miniature English bull terrier named Chevy. The dog suffered slight wounds from bullet fragments, Maples said.
Her attorney also is troubled by what Police Chief Gordon Ramsay texted to her the day after the shooting.
Expert: ‘That’s disturbing’
Justin Nix, assistant professor of criminology and criminal justice at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, said it’s difficult to “Monday-morning-quarterback” an officer’s decision and that “there’s a lot of moving parts” in this case with a reportedly suicidal person, a gun and what police described as a charging dog.
Still, Nix said, “certainly with kids around in tight quarters … that’s disturbing” that the officer fired close to them. “Wish it could have been resolved in another way.”
A police spokesman confirmed Wednesday that an officer fired two shots but said he can’t say more because the incident remains under investigation.
Maples’ daughter was hurt two nights after another Wichita police officer from about 40 yards away shot and killed an innocent 28-year-old man who stepped onto his front porch during what turned out to be a hoax hostage call to 911, known as a swatting. The Police Department has said that the officer fired after Andy Finch first raised his hands then lowered a hand toward his waist. Finch was unarmed.
Wichita attorney Charley O’Hara said he is representing Maples because, “I feel sometimes the government bullies people.”
The lawyer said it’s too early to know whether the family could take any legal action against the city.
“The overall thing here is we ought to be firing guns as a last resort,” especially close to children, O’Hara said.
‘Happen to anyone’
Maples said she is talking about what happened publicly to prevent another officer shooting.
“I need people to understand that this is something that could happen to anyone,” Maples said. She and her husband have been together for 13 years. “We’re a pretty normal family.
“All I was trying to do is protect my kids and my family, and it has turned into a nightmare,” she said.
“Officers can make the wrong decision and do the wrong thing, and they need to be held accountable for that.”
She asked that her husband’s name and their children’s names not be used to protect their privacy as they continue to deal with the emotional fallout from that night.
The day after the shooting, a Sunday, Wichita Police Chief Gordon Ramsay indicated to her that he had seen police body camera video of the officer opening fire in the room with the children.
She said Ramsay told her in a phone conversation “that what he witnessed was not only morally wrong but against their protocols and training.” He didn’t say why, she said.
She is sure that Ramsay said “morally wrong.”
After being told of the “morally wrong” comment, the Police Department spokesman said without elaborating: “There are inaccuracies in the information that was given to you.”
Maples also said Ramsay told her that the officer could possibly be “terminated” and could face charges.
O’Hara said police officials said they will arrange for him to see video of the shooting, but he had not seen it as of late Thursday afternoon.
The Police Department on Monday denied The Eagle’s request for all of the video, saying that providing it would interfere with the shooting investigation, saying that its release wasn’t mandatory because it hadn’t been played at a public meeting and saying that the video contains personal information about the girl and her family that would invade their privacy.
The family wants the video to be public and wants full disclosure, O’Hara said Thursday. “We would like the public to decide whether the police officers involved used good judgment.”
What mother heard
The nail polish crafting that evening was interrupted by Maples’ husband saying things that worried her, she said.
When he said he would hurt himself, she grabbed a phone, ran outside and called 911.
In a news release dated Tuesday, Jan. 2, almost three days after the shooting, the Police Department said officers responded to a 911 call “of a domestic dispute and suicidal person with a gun at 1500 North Gentry.” Officers were told that a 33-year-old man in the home “had held a gun in his mouth and choked a dog,” it said.
The police statement noted that four children were inside and said a handgun was under a pillow on a bed.
“While the officers were retrieving the gun, a mid-sized mixed breed dog charged at one of the officers. The officer pulled his service weapon and shot at the dog, missing it. The round struck the hard surfaced floor .. and broke into fragments.”
A fragment ricocheted and hit the 9-year-old girl in her forehead above her eye, and she was treated and released from a hospital Saturday night, the police statement said.
Maples said she and her husband were already outside – and her husband was away from the gun – when police arrived.
It was cold outside, and she had the children stay inside.
The husband and wife stayed outdoors on different sides of the house as they waited for officers to arrive, Maples said. Two patrol officers walked up and met separately with her and her husband.
The officer who remained with her never asked about her dog, she said. She had told the dispatcher that the dog and her husband were both agitated, she said. The dog was barking at her husband after he became frantic, and he put his hand out to push the dog down but wasn’t choking the dog, she said.
She had no idea that police were going into the house, Maples said.
She was so upset when police arrived, she didn’t think of her dog. Chevy is not a vicious dog, but when someone visits the home, she will secure the dog behind a baby gate or in a room or put it outside, Maples said. The dog has been trained to keep an intruder out.
While Maples was outside with the one officer, she recalled, “I hear two shots go off.” The shots sounded as if they were next to her.
“I hear someone say, ‘They’ve shot your dog.’”
The officer with her looked shocked, she said.
She heard her husband yell, “They’ve hit (her 9-year-old daughter).”
She yelled out: “What have you done?”
The officer with her told her she needed to move to a patrol car. “I was freaking out.”
She remained in the car for maybe 10 minutes, crying, yelling, repeatedly asking, “Where’s my daughter?”
As her husband tried to get to his daughter, one officer slammed him down. But another said to “let him have her,” Maples said.
The officer told her that her daughter was “OK and stable.” Her instinct was to run to her child. But police told her to stay in the patrol car. “So I obeyed.”
She said she didn’t get to see her daughter until she got to the hospital.
“She’s going to have a scar,” Maples said.
The chief’s texts
Chief Ramsay met her at the hospital that night. He said he came to check on her daughter, she said.
“Told me he was sorry for what had happened, glad she was OK and going to get some answers,” Maples recalled.
The family gave statements to police and didn’t get home until 3 the next morning, Sunday, Dec. 31.
Around 8 or 9 a.m. that Sunday, Ramsay called, saying he was sorry and wanted to check on her daughter. She asked where her dog was. Ramsay said he would have the dog brought home, and within an hour, Chevy was back with her family.
Ramsay told her he couldn’t imagine what she was going through and that he has a daughter, Maples recalled.
Then he said because of another incident a few days before – which she thought was a reference to the controversial officer shooting of the man on the porch – the media would probably be involved and that police would have to give a statement. He wanted the two of them to discuss her incident before the media was reporting on it, she said.
That afternoon, the day after her daughter was wounded, he sent her two texts.
At 2:14 p.m.: “Danielle, sorry to bother you, but wanted to make sure we got you your dog back and need to touch base with you on another important matter about this incident. Please call me when it’s convenient. Thank you. Chief Gordon Ramsay”
Then, 13 minutes later, at 2:27: “Just to reiterate as I know this is stressful and very tough. The media does not have this incident. Lets touch base when you’re ready. I’m so sorry ……”
O’Hara, the family’s attorney, says he is struck by the fact that Ramsay mentioned the media in the text to Maples. O’Hara’s interpretation: “The only reason he tries to talk to her is he’s trying to control the media. I think it’s damage control.
“Chief Ramsay seems to be a nice guy, but he doesn’t need to be concerned about the media,” O’Hara said. “He needs to be concerned about his police force.”
Police spokesman Officer Charley Davidson confirmed that the texts cited by O’Hara were accurate and complete, but took issue with how the texts were being interpreted.
The second text, he said, was to let her know that the department had not yet notified the media so Maples would have time to tell her mother.
Davidson read this statement: “It is unfortunate if the compassionate words and behavior of Chief Ramsay are being willfully misinterpreted. Chief Ramsay will continue to reach out to, listen to and appropriately console residents when necessary.”
Maples says she’s “replayed it a million times”:
▪ It began with her trying to calm the situation at her home by calling 911.
▪ She didn’t know any officer was going into the house. She would have put up her dog. But with her focus on getting help for her husband, she didn’t think of the pet.
▪ “They never even asked me if I had a dog. They never asked, ‘Who’s in the house?’”
▪ When police arrived, she said of her husband, “My goal is to get him help, and it just made the situation worse.”
After her children’s experience, she’s trying to get counseling for them. “Because I don’t have the answers for them,” Maples said.
They don’t understand, she said, why the officer fired.
Contributing: Jason Tidd of The Eagle