Officer justified, inquest rules
September 7, 2002 - 2:26 am
A veteran North Las Vegas police officer acted justifiably last month when he fatally shot a knife-wielding man who was holding his pregnant fiancee hostage, a coroner’s jury ruled Friday.
Sgt. Tim Grady, 48, told the jury he began preparing mentally and physically to use deadly force after Deon Johnson, 29, repeatedly ignored officers’ commands to drop the knife.
"He looked at me with a look of sheer rage, and at that point, I knew that she was probably going to be killed," the officer said.
Grady said he fired a single shot into Johnson’s head as the man lunged forward in an apparent attempt to stab his fiancee, 27-year- old Vamona Guy, who already was bleeding from wounds to her cheek and hands.
Jurors heard testimony from Grady and several other witnesses Friday during a coroner’s inquest in the Clark County Courthouse.
The panel, which had seven women, deliberated 16 minutes before reaching a unanimous decision.
"It was obvious to us that Sgt. Grady was distressed over what occurred, that he had followed all the procedures and had made a decision based on his experience and training," said juror Mary Curfman of Henderson.
Jury forewoman Mona Cieszko of Las Vegas said Grady impressed members of the panel with his forthrightness regarding his intent to kill.
"He didn’t try to gloss it over," she said.
Grady testified Friday about his involvement in another shooting.
The officer said he was off duty in 1981 when he shot a rape suspect in Las Vegas. The suspect survived.
Coroner’s inquests are held in Clark County whenever someone is killed by a police officer. Coroner’s juries have the choice of classifying such homicides as justifiable, excusable or criminal.
Grady, a 23-year police veteran, was disciplined in 1999 for showing up to work under the influence of alcohol.
The incident involving Johnson began about 7:30 p.m. Aug. 4 after Guy called 911 from her car.
A recording of the call was played for jurors Friday. Guy could be heard telling the 911 dispatcher that Johnson had a knife and was refusing to let her leave.
"He does have a mental problem, too," Guy told the dispatcher.
Officers responded to the couple’s home at 2227 Cambridge Elms St., southeast of Carey Avenue and Simmons Street, and found the pair in the driveway.
Guy, who is 32 weeks pregnant, spoke in a barely audible voice during her testimony at the inquest.
She said she never feared for her safety while her fiance restrained her with the knife. She denied that officers told him to drop the weapon.
"Now I have to live, try to live, support my child, our child, without a father," she said, fighting back tears.
The witness accused Grady of putting her life in danger by shooting Johnson while he was so close to her. Grady said he fired the shot to save the woman’s life.
"She was terrified," the officer told jurors. "She was hysterical. She was screaming."
Guy said police should have responded earlier in the day when her fiance called 911 seeking help. A recording of that call was played for jurors.
Johnson told the dispatcher he wanted police to take him to jail.
"I’m not stable, and I need police to come over here," he said.
The dispatcher told Johnson that police would respond to 911 calls involving life-threatening emergencies only. She told him to call back using a nonemergency number and then hung up on him.
Guy said police came to the couple’s home in June after Johnson called 911 and hung up. Police called an ambulance, which took him to get medical treatment.
The woman said Johnson was prescribed medications for anxiety, insomnia and depression, but his insurance expired, and he ran out of the medication.
She said he had a doctor’s appointment scheduled for Aug. 6 to obtain refills.
On the day of the shooting, Guy told the jury, Johnson was feeling uneasy and feared someone was stalking him.
According to evidence presented during the inquest, North Las Vegas police came to the couple’s home three other times during the past year in response to domestic disputes. None of the calls resulted in prosecution.
"It’s unfortunate that his mental illness wasn’t addressed by his family members, and we were all in agreement on that," said Cieszko, the jury forewoman.
She said Johnson’s relatives should not have relied on police to handle the man’s medical problems.