A former Wichita police officer has been charged with felony aggravated battery in a shooting that wounded a 9-year-old girl.
It is believed to be the first time in two decades that a Wichita officer has been charged in an on-duty shooting that resulted in injury or death.
The officer was responding to a 911 call about a person threatening to harm himself when he shot at the family's dog in a living room filled with children. A bullet fragment ricocheted off the concrete floor beneath the carpet where the girl sat, striking her above the eye.
The girl was directly in the line of fire when the officer shot at her dog, her family’s attorney has said. The flashlight the officer shined from above his gun barrel illuminated her face right before he fired, the lawyer said.
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The shooting occurred in the small living room of the girl’s home on North Gentry on Dec. 30. Her three siblings, ages 6 to 10, were also in the room.
Dexter Betts, the officer who shot at the dog - a 35- to 40-pound miniature English bull terrier named Chevy - was fired after the incident, The Eagle has reported. The dog suffered slight wounds from bullet fragments.
The felony charge against Betts, filed on March 20, says Betts “did … unlawfully and recklessly cause bodily harm to another person … (the child) in a manner whereby great bodily harm, disfigurement or death could have been inflicted, to wit: firing a handgun at a dog while a child was in the room.” A court summons orders Betts to appear in court on April 11.
Betts’ attorney, Jess Hoeme, said of the charge: “I expect that this will be litigated at length because I firmly believe that Mr. Betts did not act recklessly under the circumstances, and we look forward to presenting our defense in court.”
The Police Department has denied The Eagle’s request for police video of the shooting, 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's attorney has said that the family wants the video to be made public.
Charley O’Hara, attorney for the girl’s family, said Tuesday that the child’s mother, Danielle Maples, is pleased that the officer was charged.
“She said she was happy with the charge that was filed, and it was the correct thing to do.” Still, because of the shooting, “the girl is still struggling,” O’Hara said, without elaborating.
The girl was within 10 feet of the officer, he said in a previous interview, adding that she thought the officer was shooting directly at her.
O’Hara praised District Attorney Marc Bennett, whose office filed the charge: “I think it is a big deal. I think there’s a tendency of certain government officials to treat law enforcement officers differently than the regular public for the same acts, and it appears that Mr. Bennett is treating everyone equally, which is very admirable.”
Bennett said he can’t comment on the case until after Betts has his first court appearance.
Hoeme questioned O’Hara’s objectivity, saying O’Hara intends to sue the city on behalf of the family.
O’Hara said Hoeme’s criticism was ironic considering that Hoeme is trying to defend someone who is seen on video shooting with the girl in the line of fire. “I would question Mr. Hoeme’s objectivity,” O’Hara said.
O’Hara said no lawsuit has been filed.
The girl's mother and father were both unarmed and standing outside the home with other police officers when the shooting occurred. Betts had gone inside to retrieve a handgun, which was under a pillow on a bed. Police said the dog charged at him.
Two shots were fired.
A little over two weeks ago, the mother found a gun shell casing — apparently the officer’s — while cleaning behind a TV stand in the same room where the officer fired, O’Hara said.
Contributing: Stan Finger of The Eagle