More than two years after a Wichita police officer fatally shot 24-year-old Troy Lanning II, it remains an open question whether the officer was justified, District Attorney Marc Bennett said Friday.
In a news conference at his office, Bennett said the investigation of the shooting remains open.
Lanning’s mother said she commended Bennett, the county’s elected chief prosecutor, for not making a “rubber stamp” decision to justify the officer’s actions.
The officer shot Lanning six times after police responded to a report of a possible drive-by shooting and after Lanning reportedly ran from a vehicle following a high-speed chase, according to police accounts or court documents.
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Bennett, reading from a statement, said his stance so far is based partly on the officer’s conviction for filing a false report in another case. “The conviction for filing a false report has impacted both the investigation into the shooting death of Troy Lanning and its length,” he said.
“Based on the above,” Bennett said in the next paragraph, “the Office of the District Attorney cannot and will not clear the officer of responsibility in the shooting death of Troy Lanning.
“Conversely, the available evidence does not provide sufficient basis to establish that the officer did NOT act reasonably under Kansas law.”
“Reasonableness” is the legal term for what decides whether an officer’s use of force is justified, Bennett said.
Bennett said that although he wanted to be as transparent as possible by explaining what he could, he couldn’t take questions from the dozen reporters covering his announcement.
Although the DA’s statement doesn’t identify the officer by name, court documents in a lawsuit against Randy Williamson and the city reveal that Williamson was the officer who shot Lanning. In an e-mail Friday, the city also confirmed that Williamson was the officer who shot Lanning.
Williamson’s attorneys couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. The city’s lawyers have contended in court documents that the shooting was justified.
Bennett’s statement concluded that before his office could find “that an officer was justified in the use of deadly force, there must be credible, objectively reliable evidence that the officer acted reasonably. In its absence, this office will not dilute the meaning of the phrase ‘justifiable use of deadly force’ simply to conclude an investigation.”
In a statement e-mailed to The Eagle on Friday evening, Lanning’s mother, Dawn Herington, said: “To this point, I do not feel the process has been as transparent as it should have been, but I understand and accept (Bennett’s) reasoning for the extended length of his office’s investigation into my son’s death. I am glad that they will leave open the investigation. I am disappointed that it took a civil action for me to receive any information into what I believe to be the wrongful death of my son, but I am hopeful that through the discovery process of the civil action we will find information that may aide (Bennett’s) office in their investigation.”
Herington said the DA’s decision “to keep this investigation open shows that there is more to this case than what was originally perceived by the public through media reports that are still factually incorrect.” She added: “The integrity level it took for (Bennett) not to rubber stamp this as justifiable just because it was a police officer is commendable.”
Her attorney, James A. Thompson, called Bennett’s decision “admirable and appropriate given the circumstances of this case. Hopefully, the public and my client will eventually learn what really happened that night and justice can finally be served,” he said.
Williamson, 33, had been a Wichita police officer for 10 years. His employment ended in July 2013; the city won’t say why it no longer employs him.
The shooting occurred on April 1, 2012, in the 3500 block of South Everett.
It began with a late-night, high-speed chase – following a report of a possible drive-by shooting – through a residential area of southwest Wichita.
While on duty, Williamson chased Lanning on foot and shot him several times after Lanning allegedly reached into a bag, according to court documents.
Lanning’s mother, in a lawsuit against Williamson and the city, claims that the city knew or should have known that Williamson had “mental problems and violent tendencies.” The lawsuit also contends that Williamson wrongfully and unnecessarily killed Lanning when he was unarmed and “as he lay on the ground already wounded and helpless.”
The city’s lawyers have argued in a court document that “Williamson was justified in using deadly force,” that he “reasonably perceived” a threat.
A lawyer for Williamson, Arthur Chalmers, has said in a court document that after Williamson yelled for Lanning to drop a bag and show his hands, Lanning ignored the officer, turned “and raised the bag as if to shoot a gun inside the bag.”
On Friday, Bennett said his office reviewed findings of an investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, Wichita Police Department and investigators with the DA’s office. The evidence includes items gathered by Wichita police crime scene investigators, interviews of civilians and law enforcement, an autopsy on Lanning conducted by the Sedgwick County Regional Forensic Science Center, and forensic examination of bullets and shell casings and the officer’s gun.
The determination of whether the officer’s shooting was justified under Kansas law depends on a “thorough assessment of the facts and evidence,” Bennett’s statement said. “Standing alone, the forensic evidence in this case … is not dispositive,” or does not settle the matter.
Bennett noted that about five months after the officer shot Lanning, the officer filed a report in which he made false statements. “As a result, the officer was charged by this office and later pled to filing a false report and criminal damage to property,” the statement said. “The officer today stands guilty of having made false statements” during his job as an officer.
Court records show that Williamson last week entered what is known as an Alford plea in a separate shooting. That means he is accepting a plea offer without an admission of guilt.
Prosecutors accused him of firing shots that damaged a south Wichita building while he was on duty in September 2012. They also alleged that he falsely reported a crime, apparently about the incident.
Soon after the building shooting, police said that Williamson fired several times after he said someone acting suspiciously appeared ready to shoot at him with a rifle or shotgun. Investigators found no evidence that anyone fired at him.
Williamson entered the plea to an amended complaint that reduced his criminal-damage-to-property charge from a felony to a misdemeanor. The plea also includes a misdemeanor charge of falsely reporting a crime.
Williamson received 12 months of probation. He had been facing trial this month in the shooting involving the building.
Patrick Mitchell, Williamson’s attorney in the building damage case, said last month that when Williamson allegedly shot at the building, he was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as a result of the fatal shooting five months earlier.
Reach Tim Potter at 316-268-6684 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Full statement of Dawn Herington, mother of Troy Lanning II:
“First and foremost I would like to go on the record as saying I generally support the Wichita Police Department.
From my dealings with WPD, Mr. Williamson’s conduct is not what I have come to expect from our police department.
To this point, I do not feel the process has been as transparent as it should have been, but I understand and accept Mr. Bennet’s reasoning for the extended length of his office’s investigation into my son’s death.
I am glad that they will leave open the investigation. I am disappointed that it took a civil action for me to receive any information into what I believe to be the wrongful death of my son, but I am hopeful that through the discovery process of the civil action we will find information that may aide Mr. Bennet’s office in their investigation. I hope people understand that even though the DA’s office is not pressing charges at this time, the willingness of Mr. Bennet to keep this investigation open shows that there is more to this case than what was originally perceived by the public through media reports that are still factually incorrect.
The integrity level it took for Mr. Bennet not to rubber stamp this as justifiable just because it was a police officer is commendable.”