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Prosecutor won’t indict Niles officers in Matthew Burroughs’ death

Report: Burroughs’ actions threatened officers’ safety

Watch the police dash-cam video here

Read the complete report here.

WARREN — Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins, in a 35-page report, agrees with a grand jury’s conclusion that the two Niles officers who fatally fired upon Matthew Burroughs near his Royal Mall apartment Jan. 2 did so because they felt Burroughs’ actions threatened the safety of officer Christopher Manella.

Manella fired three shots through the front windshield at Burroughs, 35, hitting him each time in the upper chest. They were the shots that killed Burroughs, the report says.

A Trumbull County grand jury heard from 25 witnesses in the case over three days and chose not to indict any officers, the report states.

Some of the best evidence in the case are the body camera videos from officers, the report states.

Officer James Reppy was behind Burroughs’ white Ford Fusion as it entered the apartment complex and watched the vehicle change direction forward to back multiple times before he fired five times through the rear windshield, but none of the shots hit Burroughs, the report states.

Both officers said they fired because they feared Burroughs was about to drive straight into Manella.

Manella was near the front of Burroughs’ apartment building when the Fusion was driven into the complex. Manella had gone there looking for Burroughs after an earlier run-in with a probation officer at Niles Municipal Court.

“I yell, ‘Stop get out of the car; stop get out of the car,’ not even a hand off the wheel, nothing, just started heading [sic], there was that small hesitation and came right at me,” Manella told investigators with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation about the moments before he fired.

“At that point I thought, he’s just going to hit me, and I can’t have him run me over,” Manella said.

Reppy said officer Paul Hogan was in his cruiser in the apartment driveway as the Fusion entered. Hogan mistakenly thought Reppy was Lt. Dan Atkins because when the Fusion entered, Hogan said over his police radio, “I don’t think he’s going to stop, Dan.”

The Fusion did stop, nearly face to face with Hogan’s cruiser. Then Burroughs put his car in reverse toward Reppy’s cruiser. Burroughs then veered right from hitting Hogan’s cruiser and “just keeps going right at officer Manella,” Reppy told investigators.

Reppy said he fired at the Fusion to protect Manella.

There was one nonlaw-enforcement witness to the shooting — an apartment maintenance worker who was on the porch of an apartment building nearby.

He told a state investigator Jan. 10 that he saw Burroughs move forward and backward multiple times, and saw an officer jogging or running beside Burroughs’ car. The statement doesn’t say much else about what the maintenance worker saw.

The report reads the worker’s first statement was “gathered by Niles police.” The statement doesn’t provide a clear-cut statement as to events.

“I then saw an officer in front of the white car jump, it seemed, to one side and then drew his gun. Heard multiple shots fired and seen through the windshield,” his statement to Niles police reads.

Steve Irwin, a state Bureau of Criminal Investigation spokesman, acknowledged that while BCI does “prefer that it get to interview witnesses first, that is not always necessarily the case.” He said he did not know when the Niles interview took place.

A situation such as this involves a criminal investigation, which BCI carried out, and sometimes a policy investigation carried out by the department. Niles police spoke with the maintenance worker as part of its policy investigation, Irwin said.

Capt. John Marshall, when asked whether that interview was done before BCI’s interview by accident or not, said the department had no comment.

Christopher Becker, assistant county prosecutor, likewise said he and Watkins declined to answer questions.

When contacted Friday regarding no charges being filed against officers, Tara Elkins, Burroughs’ girlfriend, said other family issues and not seeing the report prevented her from talking, but she will speak later.

Annette McCoy, president of the Trumbull County Chapter of the NAACP, could not be reached for comment. McCoy issued a news release after the shooting demanding an independent investigation and other measures to ensure a fair investigation.

Thomas Conley, Greater Warren Youngstown Urban League president and CEO, issued a release saying only that the league will be releasing a written statement next week after a review of the report.

Becker presented 25 witnesses to a Trumbull County grand jury over three days, the report states.

“The grand jury was instructed on the applicable law of murder, self-defense and applicable law regarding police officers and their use of deadly force in the discharging of their duties,” the report states.

The grand jury “has declined to to indict any police officer or officers for the death of Matthew Burroughs,” it states. Grand jury proceedings are private.

While releasing the report, Watkins said he would have no comment on anything more than what is in the report, noting that two law firms have indicated they are representing the estate and family of Matthew Burroughs.

The report states the prosecutor’s office “agrees with the grand jury’s decision finding any prosecution unwarranted in this case.”

erunyan@tribtoday.com