Jury: Shooting justified


Three Las Vegas police officers testified Friday that they had no choice but to shoot a California fugitive in February after the man fired a round from his own gun.

"I knew I had to do something," said officer Pete Friday, who was shot in the leg. "I was a sitting duck in front of him."

A coroner's jury deliberated less than an hour Friday before unanimously concluding that the three officers acted justifiably on Feb. 6 when they shot and killed 28-year-old Jeffrey Williams.

All three officers said they opened fire on Williams after he fired a single shot that injured two of them. Williams was shot seven times.

Officer Dustin Butler said he believes that had he not fired at Williams, the suspect would have continued shooting at police.

"He would have definitely turned around and shot all of us," Butler told jurors.

The incident began after deputy U.S. marshals asked the police to help them stop a vehicle driven by a man they described as armed and dangerous. Williams, who had been convicted of robbery, was wanted on a parole violation out of Anaheim, Calif.

Officer Jeff Harper testified that he tried to help stop the vehicle on Desert Inn Road.

"At first the suspect pulled over on the side of the road like he was going to comply with officers," Harper said.

But Harper said the vehicle then fled the scene, initiating a car chase that exceeded 110 mph. The pursuit continued north on Eastern Avenue until the vehicle crashed into a traffic signal's control box and tree, the officer said.

Williams, the driver, and a passenger then fled on foot. Harper said he saw Williams make a movement that looked like he was trying to pull out a firearm. Although the officer never saw a weapon, he broadcast what he had seen over his police radio.

As Harper continued running after Williams, he heard several gunshots. He arrived to find Williams lying facedown in the front yard of a home in the 2000 block of Canosa Avenue, near Eastern and St. Louis avenues.

Friday, who joined the Metropolitan Police Department in 1998, said he heard radio traffic about the car stop and came to assist. The 35-year-old officer arrived to see the car fleeing and later heard over his radio that it had crashed.

He headed north and later saw Butler and officer Jason Leavitt chasing the suspect on foot.

When Friday caught up with the other two officers, he said, they were on top of Williams and were ordering him to show his hands. The suspect was lying on his stomach with his arms tucked under his chest, Friday said.

The officer said he, too, began ordering the suspect to show his hands. He said Williams then made eye contact with him, and the officer immediately saw a muzzle flash, which was followed by pain in his leg.

Friday, who was about 4 feet away, returned fire. Butler and Leavitt also returned fire before all three officers retreated.

Butler, 32, joined the Police Department in 1999. He said he assisted in the foot pursuit of Williams after hearing about it over his radio.

The officer said he saw Williams fall to the ground with his hands under his body. When Butler caught up to him, the officer put his knee and his gun in the man's back.

Leavitt said he then put his knee on the other side of the suspect's back and began trying to pull his right arm out from under him. Witnesses said they never heard Williams say a word during the struggle.

Butler said he saw a muzzle flash and heard a loud bang, then asked Leavitt whether they had come from the suspect. When Leavitt said they had, Butler fired into the suspect's back and moved away. Butler said he thought Williams had fired once but later learned he had fired twice.

The officer said he saw a gun under Williams' chest as police handcuffed the suspect, who died at the scene.

Leavitt, 34, joined the Police Department in 2003. He said he felt the muzzle blast on his left hand as he yanked on Williams' arm and knew it had come from the suspect.

"Instantly I returned fire to stop him from shooting me or my partner any more," Leavitt testified.

The officer said his hand was bleeding, and he initially believed he had been shot but later learned he had been injured by the muzzle blast.

Evidence presented during the coroner's inquest showed that Friday fired once, Butler fired twice, and Leavitt fired four times. Williams was shot once in the cheek, four times in the arm, once in his chest and once in his back.

Williams' mother and sister attended part of the inquest but left before the testimony had concluded.

Review-Journal writer David Kihara contributed to this report. Contact reporter Carri Geer Thevenot at cgeer @reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0264.

 

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