TRUMBULL COUNTY Deputy defends actions in chase
The matter is set for arbitration, but no hearing date has been set.
By SHERRI L. SHAULIS
VINDICATOR TRUMBULL STAFF
NEWTON FALLS -- A Trumbull County deputy sheriff thinks a motorist's ramming into his car twice was justification for firing at the car's tires.
"I feared for my safety, the public's safety and the safety of my fellow officers. I felt I had to do what was necessary to stop him before he killed someone," Brian Kaintz, 30, of Niles, said Thursday.
Kaintz, a deputy with the department since 1998, has been on unpaid administrative leave since Sept. 6 for his actions during a pursuit June 26.
The suspect, Christopher Rex, 26, of Southington, was charged with DUI, driving under suspension, speeding, failure to control, failure to comply and felonious assault.
Rex has pleaded innocent. He was to appear in Newton Falls Municipal Court on Thursday. Kaintz was present to testify, but the hearing was postponed to Oct. 8.
A videotape from Kaintz's cruiser shows him chasing a vehicle about 2:15 a.m. on U.S. Route 422 and state Route 534.
At one point, Kaintz can be heard reporting his speed at more than 100 mph. When the vehicle reached Doty East Road, the driver tried to turn right but the car hit a tree.
Kaintz, who is not visible on the tape, can be heard telling the driver to stop. The tape shows the motorist putting the car in reverse, hitting the cruiser, pulling forward, then reversing again before driving off.
After the car hit the cruiser, Kaintz can be heard yelling, then firing several shots.
Kaintz said he aimed at the tires to disable to vehicle.
"The backup units were arriving then," he told The Vindicator. "But everything happened so fast I couldn't communicate to them what had just happened. I feared for their safety, because I didn't know what this guy was going to do."
Rex was arrested about 20 minutes later at his home.
Kaintz said he expected an internal investigation into the matter, considered common procedure anytime an officer fires his weapon.
Sheriff Thomas Altiere said Kaintz was initially placed on paid administrative leave, then unpaid administrative leave for violating the department's policy on use of force.
"You just don't fire your weapon unless your life or the lives of others are threatened," Altiere said.
A letter from Altiere to Kaintz, dated Sept. 5, said he will remain on unpaid administrative leave until further notice.
The written policy states, "All officers/deputies are prohibited from the use of firearms from either a stationary or moving position in an attempt to disable a moving vehicle unless the officer/deputy or other persons are in imminent threat of serious physical harm."
Kaintz thinks his actions were justified because the motorist rammed his car. He said Altiere told him that once the driver crashed, he was no longer a threat and the use of gunfire was excessive.
"What does he need to do to be considered a threat? Run me over? Kill someone else driving down the road?" Kaintz asked.
The matter has been set for arbitration, but no hearing date is scheduled yet. Altiere said attorneys from both sides are reviewing a list of arbitrators, and when they agree on one a hearing will be set.
"It could be a month, it could be three months," he said, noting there is no deadline.
Aside from the department's internal investigation that led to the arbitration hearing, Altiere asked the Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation to review the matter.
BCI officials gave a copy of their report to county Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, but Altiere said he has not seen it.
Watkins previously said he would present the matter to the grand jury. He could not be reached.