Mother calls police shooting of son in wheelchair 'unjust'

AP News
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Posted: Sep 24, 2015 8:04 PM
Mother calls police shooting of son in wheelchair 'unjust'

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) — The police shooting of a man in a wheelchair was "unjust," his mother said Thursday, but authorities described a different scenario, saying the man was pulling a handgun from his waist when officers shot him to death.

The shooting happened on a narrow street in Wilmington on Wednesday around 3 p.m. Officers responded to a 911 call of a man who had shot himself, and when they arrived, 28-year-old Jeremy McDole was "still armed with a handgun," Police Chief Bobby Cummings said during a news conference.

McDole's mother, Phyllis McDole, interrupted the briefing.

"He was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. There's video showing that he didn't pull a weapon ... I need answers," she said.

Cummings said officers approached McDole and told him to put the weapon down. As McDole was removing the gun from his waist, officers "engaged him."

"I assure you that not one of those officers intended to take anyone's life that day," Cummings said.

Video of the shooting posted online, which the chief said appeared to be authentic, shows an officer approaching McDole with a gun drawn, shouting "show me your hands" and "drop the gun." Other officers then appear in the video with their guns drawn, yelling similar commands.

McDole moves around in his wheelchair and reaches into his jeans, but it's unclear from the video what he is doing. The officers, who are not in the video at this point, fire multiple shots and McDole falls out of his wheelchair.

Cummings said he was not aware of any attempt by officers to use nonlethal force before shooting McDole. He also would not say whether he thought the situation should have been handled differently.

"Only our thorough investigation will reveal that," he said.

The shooting is being investigated by the department's criminal investigation and professional standards units, as well as the Delaware Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust, which will determine whether any officers will be charged. The state agency investigates all police shootings that result in injury or death.

Richard Smith, head of the Delaware chapter of the NAACP, called for a special prosecutor to investigate the shooting, and "to not have cops investigating cops."

McDole's uncle, Eugene Smith, was among a crowd of a couple dozen people who gathered Thursday at the scene of the shooting. Smith said he was with his nephew about 15 minutes before shooting and he didn't see a gun.

"He had a book bag, but I never seen a gun," he said. "It was an execution. That's what it was. I don't care if he was black, white, whatever."

McDole was black. The race of the four officers who fired was not released. All four are on administrative duty. One of the officers has been on the force for 15 or more years, and the others had been there for about five years, the police chief said.

Mayor Dennis Williams announced earlier this year that officers would have body cameras by the end of 2015.

At the news conference, he said: "We want answers just like you want answers."

McDole was shot near an auto parts store in an area that includes a mix of shops and row houses.

A bouquet of flowers was placed at the scene and some gray powder was on the concrete, apparently to soak up bloodstains. At least seven small yellow chalk circles were on the pavement across from where McDole was shot, presumably outlining where the shell casings from officers' guns landed.

Late Thursday, about 100 people gathered outside of Phyllis McDole's home for a candlelight vigil and expressed their frustrations about the shooting.

Williams and Delaware Gov. Jack Markell stopped by and expressed their condolences.

A .40-caliber shell casing was found in the grass about 15 feet from where McDole was shot. Police said a .38-caliber gun was found by McDole's side after he was shot.

Smith said McDole had gotten out of jail about a year ago and was living in a nursing home.

McDole has an arrest record that dates back to 2005 and includes convictions for drug possession and disorderly conduct. He was also arrested for carrying a concealed deadly weapon and resisting arrest, but those charges were dropped. In November, McDole was found to have violated his probation.

McDole was paralyzed when he was shot in the back in 2005 by a friend he had been walking around a neighborhood with, smoking marijuana, according to court documents.

McDole initially told police that his friend Randal Matoo shot him, but later testified that he didn't know who shot him.

At Matoo's bench trial, the judge said he didn't know what happened, "but if either one of you expect me to believe that this wasn't associated with some other wrongdoing, think again," according to court documents. "There's a horrible penalty that both of you, the victim, Mr. McDole, and you the defendant, Mr. Matoo, are going to pay for whatever was behind this."

Matoo was convicted of first-degree assault and possession of a firearm during a felony.

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(The story corrects a previous version to show that the last name of the man in the wheelchair was McDole, not McDowell.)