Three Wichita police officers fired on a driver at relatively close range, critically wounding him, because he backed up toward them during a chase early Monday morning, the interim police chief said.
The wounded man – hit in the hand, abdomen and leg – was in stable but critical condition at a Wichita hospital, Interim Police Chief Nelson Mosley said during a briefing Monday afternoon at police offices in City Hall.
No officers were injured.
The officers didn’t have body cameras, and patrol cars don’t have dash cameras, Mosley said. The department, which is working on equipping all field officers with body cameras by year’s end, has 60 cameras available now, he said.
He said he couldn’t say how many shots were fired by police because that remains under investigation.
Police said in a news release that the shooting occurred at about 4:24 a.m. in an alley between Water and Wichita. The spot is south of Osie and southeast of Harry and McLean.
Mosley answered some questions after reading from a statement, saying the information he could give is limited because of an ongoing investigation. He gave this account:
An officer on a routine patrol saw a white Chrysler Sebring matching the description of one reported stolen Friday.
“The officer believed this to be a stolen vehicle based on information he previously had learned,” Mosley said.
The car, occupied by two men, “made a series of turns to create distance between the officer and the Chrysler,” he said, and the officer used his emergency equipment to try to stop the car. It turned into an alley between Wichita and Water, going south in the 1700 block.
Because the alley is unpaved, the suspects’ driving stirred up a lot of dust, and the dust reduced visibility for the pursuing officer, Mosley said.
At some point, the original driver fled from the car in the alley, leaving the car in gear. The officer got out of his car and saw the fleeing man and the one still in the Chrysler, which continued south in the alley and stopped, Mosley said.
The passenger, 45, moved to the driver’s seat of the Chrysler, which went in reverse toward the pursuing officer, he said. The car struck a 6-foot iron fence, “putting the officer at risk,” Mosley said.
“At this time another police vehicle arrived with two officers to assist the original officer in the alleyway.
“The officers discharged their hand guns towards the driver as the vehicle moved towards the officers,” and the car eventually stopped farther down the fence line, the statement said. “Officers were able to take control of the driver at that point.”
After searching the area, police found the second suspect – the original driver – near the alley where the car ended up. Next to where he was hiding and arrested, police found a loaded handgun, the statement said.
After further investigation, police realized that they needed to correct information reported earlier: The white Chrysler was stolen Friday evening and recovered Saturday morning and “was not listed as an actively stolen vehicle at the time of this incident,” the statement said.
The second suspect, 49, was booked into the Sedgwick County Jail for a felony warrant from Butler County, a misdemeanor warrant from Sedgwick County and traffic charges, police said.
The three officers have been put on administrative leave according to policy, the statement said. Two of the officers had about two years of experience, and the third had six months.
Police are encouraging anyone with information about the shooting to call police investigators at 316-268-4646.
Police “are working with the Sedgwick County DA’s Office and the Kansas Bureau of Investigation on this incident,” the statement said.
Police want to “complete an accurate and timely investigation” to the DA’s Office, and police will “work towards releasing as much detail as possible,” the statement said.
The gravel alley where the shooting occurred was blocked off by yellow crime scene tape shortly after dawn Monday. Multiple vehicles remained in the alley hours after the shooting.
Cynthia Hinton, who lives around the corner from where the shooting occurred, said the sound of gunfire and dogs barking woke her up shortly before 4:30 a.m.
Gunfire happens in her part of town “all the time, unfortunately,” Hinton said as she paused during her morning walk to look down the alley marked off by the crime-scene tape.
It was a nice, quiet neighborhood when she moved to the 1800 block of South Water 11 years ago, she said, but things have changed in the past five years. She blames drug houses that have popped up in the area.
By early afternoon, officers rolled up the crime-scene tape, and the white Sebring convertible was hauled away from the scene with a police escort.
Cheryle Bridges, who said she has lived in the neighborhood since 1993, said she heard gunshots – a burst of perhaps a half-dozen, a brief pause, and then one more shot. They occasionally hear gunfire off to the west, “maybe across the bridge” over the Arkansas River, she said.
“If we do, it’s not as close as it was last night,” Bridges said as she sat on the front porch of her house on Wichita south of Harry. “That was too close.”