SEE ALSO: Niles council approves final steps for fiscal emergency release
By Ed Runyan
When Matthew Burroughs drove into the Royal Mall apartments with one Niles police cruiser behind him Jan. 2, he “drove toward” multiple other Niles officers already in the complex waiting for him.
“Officers state they perceived a threat to their safety and fired their service weapons,” police Chief Jay Holland said in a verbal and written statement he gave to reporters Wednesday at the police department.
Holland said he agreed to provide the statement and answer questions to “dispel some of the misinformation that has come out” about the officer-involved shooting that killed Burroughs, 35.
“We feel some of the members of the community want to hear from their police department, and that is understandable,” Holland said.
“Our agency has never claimed that Burroughs possessed or used a firearm during this incident,” Holland said. “Officers on scene did state that Burroughs used his vehicle as a weapon towards law enforcement.”
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations is conducting interviews and collecting evidence on the shooting that it will turn over to the Trumbull County Prosecutor’s Office for a determination of whether the officers acted appropriately.
Holland also on Wednesday released 911 calls between Niles dispatchers and the officers involved in the shooting. Included are radio communications regarding the incident a short time earlier between Burroughs and a probation officer at Niles Municipal Court.
In the critical seconds before Burroughs was shot, an unidentified Niles officer can be heard on his portable radio expressing concern that Burroughs was driving toward them.
“I don’t know if he’s gonna stop, man,” the officer said. It was apparently just a short time later that officers fired at Burroughs because the next radio transmission came from an officer saying, “Send an ambulance. Send an ambulance.”
A dispatcher is heard saying, “PD is on scene screaming to send an ambulance.”
An officer then said, “Radio, we need a squad. All of the officers are good. He is not.” There is strain in the officer’s voice.
The department is awaiting advice from the law department before deciding whether to release the names and personnel records of the officers involved in the shooting, Holland said.
At Wednesday night’s council meeting, no council members or members of the public spoke about the shooting.
Holland said the incident at Niles Municipal Court began at 2:28 p.m. Burroughs was in the court’s lobby, and he had two misdemeanor warrants. The court notified Niles police to come detain Burroughs. As the court waited for officers, Burroughs left the lobby and went outside, Holland said.
A court probation officer followed Burroughs, giving him commands to stop. But Burroughs got in his car parked along side of the court, police and fire complex on State Street and started his car.
He backed up, “striking the probation officer with the still-open door as he backed up,” Holland said. “The car continued to travel in reverse onto State Street” and left the area.
Niles officers were informed of Burroughs’ flight, his address and a description of Burroughs and his car. An officer spotted Burroughs’ car as it headed south on state Route 46 toward the Royal Mall.
The police department has declined to release the police report it wrote on the incident at the court, and Holland said he does not know why Burroughs had come to the court that day.
When Holland was asked about an issue raised by Annette McCoy, president of the Trumbull County Chapter of the NAACP, about racial diversity training received by Niles police officers, Holland said Niles officers receive whatever training the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy “deems as continuing education or training.”
His 35-member department has one woman and one Hispanic man, but no black officers, Holland said.
The department started using body cameras two years ago, making it the largest county police department to use them, Holland said. Because of the body cameras, it does not use police car dash cameras, Holland said.
The chief said some citizens were alarmed to learn the county coroner’s office called Burroughs’ death a homicide, but there are only a few classifications used by the coroner’s office, such as natural, homicide and accidental, and homicide just means “death by another.”
It is not meant to imply any “criminal liability” on the part of the officers who fired at him, he said.
Holland said it needed to be clarified the police department never alleged Burroughs had a gun. BCI said last week an examination of Burroughs’ car by investigators showed he had no gun.
Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz participated in the news conference, calling Burroughs’ death “a very tragic incident for the city of Niles as a whole. My thoughts and prayers go out to all of those involved. Our police department has been excellent in turning over the facts of the case to the BCI.SDRq