Crime & Courts

DA says shooting of suspect justified in case of Sedgwick County sheriff's Deputy Brian Etheridge

Brian Etheridge, Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputy killed on duty September 28, 2009.   courtesy photo
Brian Etheridge, Sedgwick County Sheriff's deputy killed on duty September 28, 2009. courtesy photo

Three law enforcement officers were justified in using deadly force against the man suspected of killing Sedgwick County sheriff's Deputy Brian Etheridge on Sept. 28, District Attorney Nola Foulston said in a report released Wednesday.

"The use of force by the three officers against Richard Lyons did not constitute an unlawful use of force," the report said.

"The firing at Lyons while he continued to pose a lethal threat was a reasonable use of deadly force to protect themselves and others against his planned and premeditated intent to kill officers of the law."

Lyons, 27, was shot seven times by two agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and a trooper from the Kansas Highway Patrol, the report said.

At the time, Lyons was carrying a 9mm handgun that contained 14 live rounds — four fewer than it had when he took it from the wounded deputy, the report said.

Lyons told relatives before the shooting that he had a dream in which he killed police officers and was later killed by police, the report said. It also noted that some details of the shooting will never be known.

Etheridge, 26, was shot twice around noon on Sept. 28 while responding to a theft report at a house on Rock Road near McConnell Air Force Base. He died at Wesley Medical Center.

Lyons died early that evening after exchanging gunfire with the three law enforcement officers in a field near the house.

Under Kansas law, Foulston said, a person is justified in using force when he or she reasonably believes that the force is needed to defend against an aggressor's imminent use of unlawful force.

The initial 911 call

At 11:40 a.m. on the day of the shooting, Lyons called 911 using his grandfather's name and said his car had been broken into while parked overnight in the driveway of his home in the 3600 block of South Rock Road, Foulston said.

It was a low-priority call — five on a scale of one to six — and protocol dictated that a single unit respond. Etheridge was dispatched to the scene at 11:42 a.m. and arrived at 11:51.

No one answered when Etheridge knocked on the door, the report said; he asked for and received from the dispatcher the number of the caller so he could try to contact him.

At noon, the report said, a garbled transmission came from Etheridge's hand-held radio, and an officer-in-trouble call was broadcast 18 seconds later on all law enforcement channels.

At 12:01 p.m., the report said, Etheridge radioed that he had been shot. He repeated the transmission less than a minute later. The first officers arrived 2 1/2 minutes after the second transmission.

An autopsy found that Etheridge had been killed by a bullet fired through his bulletproof vest from a high velocity rifle found at the scene. He was also shot once in the foot with his own handgun.

The trajectory of that bullet indicated that the second shot was fired as Etheridge was lying on his back and was raising his leg in an attempt to block the bullet from being fired directly into his body.

The manhunt

The search for the suspect focused on the house and a one-mile perimeter that was established around it, the report said. The Wichita police SWAT team eventually entered the empty house, and officers from several agencies used Humvee-like vehicles supplied by McConnell Air Force Base to scour nearby fields.

One of the vehicles carried a Highway Patrol trooper and three ATF agents, one of whom was driving. The other three officers were in the bed of the vehicle and armed with rifles.

The vehicle came across Lyons as he was lying in a row of trees about a half-mile from the house.

"As the humvee was stopping, the person in the tree row fired a shot towards the officers and then began running south into a field," Foulston's report said. "The four officers jumped from the humvee and began to pursue the suspect while ordering him to stop.

"As the foot chase continued, the suspect turned towards the officers and fired a second shot. Two officers returned fire and the suspect fell to the ground in the high grass.

"The officers gave additional commands to the now hidden suspect, who then quickly stood up with the gun in his hand. Three officers fired at the suspect, and the suspect fell to the ground again."

The report said 13 rounds were fired at Lyons, striking him twice in the back, once in the side, once in the right-rear hip and once in the front of his lower left leg. He suffered graze wounds to his chest and right heel.

The report said it was impossible to determine the order in which the shots were fired.

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