Ohio Police Must Defend Justifiable OIS

The shooting of the 72-year-old homeowner by Mentor (Ohio) police created an instant storm of community controversy that hasn't been quelled by an investigation calling it justifiable.

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How many times have you seen this headline? Across the nation today, lawsuits against police are the rule, rather than the exception for officer-involved shootings (OIS), especially when there's any "controversy" involved.

Take the Feb. 5, 2009 OIS on Roselawn Drive in Mentor, Ohio. It started out as a MFD "medical" run (male having a possible stroke) that quickly escalated into a call for MPD assistance when a 72-year-old male refused medical attention, and threatened to "get his gun."

Fire paramedics, fearing for their safety, left the house, with the male's wife. MPD officers arrived and established a perimeter, then had the wife attempt (unsuccessfully) to call her husband by phone. 

Shortly afterward, the male emerged from the side door of his home, holding a shotgun. According to reports, a cover officer, fearing for the safety of other officers on scene, fired a single rifle round, killing the male.  No one else was hurt. The shotgun turned out to be unloaded.

The shooting of the 72-year-old homeowner by Mentor police created an instant storm of community controversy. A subsequent autopsy determined the male had a .23 BAC (Ohio DUI level is .08). 

After an intensive MPD investigation, the shooting was ruled Justifiable by the Lake County prosecutor. At MPD's request, the Ohio Attorney General's Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) division reviewed and concurred with MPD's findings.

Fast forward to Feb. 4. The attorney for the family of the 72-year-old male filed a $5-million lawsuit naming the city of Mentor, the officer who fired the fatal shot, and 20 unnamed police, fire and city officials.

The lawsuit created yet another hornet's nest of community controversy.  To learn for yourselves how intense this debate is, I urge you to check out "Widow sues Mentor, officer who shot husband" and comments at News-Herald.com.

The numerous comments are very revealing as to how intensely The News-Herald readers view the incident, shooting and actions of police and fire paramedics. While the majority of comments support MPD/MFD actions, a substantial minority is critical of police/fire, while supporting the family of the male shot by police.

For those not familiar with Mentor, Ohio, it's a suburb of 50,000 that's located 21 miles east of Cleveland on the south shore of Lake Erie. Mentor is a good mix of residential, retail and industry, with two major freeways, providing easy access to all of northeast Ohio.

Mentor isn't considered "high crime," and violent crime is infrequent, with police shootings exceptionally rare. The only other MPD OIS I know of occurred in 1996.

Mentor can best be described as a typical Mid-America suburb—a nice place to, as the city motto says, "live, work, play and visit." So it's no surprise that something like this shocked a community like Mentor to its very core, or that such intense controversy continues a full year later. 

Since I wasn't directly involved on scene, and haven't talked with anyone who was, I only know what's been publicly reported to this point.

What's been reported includes:

  • Family members called 9-1-1, because the 72-year-old male was "acting strangely," and they believed he was having a stroke.
  • The male refused medical treatment, ordering fire paramedics to leave his home.
  • The male threatened to "get his gun."
  • Paramedics left the house, taking the wife also, and called for police to respond.
  • Upon arrival, MPD established a perimeter, and had the wife call her husband. She tried twice without success, leaving a voice message instead.
  • Male emerged from the home's side door, holding a shotgun.
  • According to reports, the male "walked to the end of the garage," "shouldered the shotgun," and "panned the barrel left to right" (in the direction of officers).
  • From inside a neighbor's house, a cover officer fired a single shot with his [patrol] rifle, killing the male.
  • The cover officer is also a sniper on the MPD SWAT team.
  • At least one sergeant was on scene, as were one to three SWAT personnel.
  • No official SWAT/HNT callup/callout was initiated.
  • Time elapsed between MPD arriving on scene and the fatal shot was approximately 15-20 minutes.

What's known is this wasn't an official "SWAT operation," though there were one to three SWAT personnel on scene, including the cover officer who fired the fatal shot.

The deceased male's 0.23 BAC autopsy lab result was a surprise to everyone, including his family.

The family disputes that the male pointed his shotgun at police.

The cover officer fired to protect other officers, but not in an official "SWAT" capacity.

When you read the articles, and as I did, listen to the audio dispatch tapes obtained via The News-Herald, you get a better picture of what happened on Roselawn Drive. Even so, there are still facts only known to those who were involved, investigators, and attorneys for both sides.

From the comments, you'll see there are those who strongly believe police, and even fire paramedics are perceived as the "bad guys." Particularly involving "a man and his castle" and "forcing anyone to obtain medical treatment against his/her will."

What's significant, particularly for SWAT, is the cover officer (and perhaps one to two other SWAT officers were in non-SWAT roles. Which begs the question about when should SWAT be called and by whom. Especially since most SWAT teams are part time, the next logical question is when do "SWAT" officers put on their "SWAT hats"?

I urge you to check out the News-Herald.com article and comments to learn more about what happened in Mentor. Because this could very easily happen to any LEO anywhere.

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SWAT Sergeant (Ret.)
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