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Body camera shows chaos of Struthers shooting

Submitted photo / City of Struthers A screenshot taken from body-camera footage from one of two Struthers officers involved in the April 1 officer-involved shooting of James J. Sheets shows the chaotic scene from the encounter.

YOUNGSTOWN — The body-camera footage from one of the two Struthers officers involved in the April 1 officer-involved shooting death of James J. Sheets, 35, captured the chaotic scene when an officer opened fire.

The officer, who has not been identified, was among officers in two Struthers cruisers that chased Sheets from downtown Struthers into Youngstown. The chase ended when the officers stopped him at the intersection of Steel Street and Salt Springs Road.

The camera, which was on the officer’s chest, showed the shooting, which happened at 5:13 p.m. The officer parked alongside the other Struthers cruiser so that the other Struthers cruiser was between him and the vehicle containing Sheets.

It shows the officer getting out of his cruiser as sirens wail and immediately yelling, “Show me your hands” twice in about three seconds, then yelling,”Got a gun! Gun!” three seconds later, and then the gunfire begins one second later.

It’s hard to tell how many shots were fired, but it sounds like about 10.

While the shots were being fired, the body camera only captured Sheets for brief moments. The officer’s arms seemed to be blocking most of the view captured by the camera. Sheets seemed to be sitting normally in the brief glimpses of him.

After the shots stopped, the officer yelled to his fellow officer, who is to the officer’s right, “Reloading. Reloading,” which meant he was reloading another clip of ammunition into his gun.

Then the officer yells, “He’s got a gun” a few more times as he moves to the back of the gold-colored car with his fellow officer still to his right.

Sixteen seconds after the first shots were fired, the officer yells, “Show us your hands.” About 20 seconds after the gunfire started, the officer asks the young officer to his right “Are you OK?”

“I’m good,” the second officer said.

The officer yells “Show us your hands.” About 40 seconds pass before the officer asks the second officer again, “Are you hit or anything?”

At about 70 seconds after the gunfire began, he tells the second officer that he fired his weapon, then added, “He shot at me.”

Another 20 seconds later, the officer tells the second officer, “He’s shot. He’s not breathing.”

Again he asks the second officer if he’s OK, and the second officer says he is.

At about two minutes after the gunfire began, the officer moved back to the left and appeared to take a closer look at Sheets and utters an expletive two times.

Someone then apparently asked the officer if anyone was hit by gunfire, and he said, “He is. I don’t think I am.” At about that same time it becomes apparent that a third officer, apparently from the Youngstown Police Department, is there. There are three officers pointing their weapons at Sheets.

About four minutes after the shots started, there are moments in the recording where the audio appears to have been deleted.

There appeared to be many instances in the minutes to come in which Youngstown officers approached the officer to ask him if he was OK, and to talk to him. In some instances, the audio again appears to have been deleted in the version released to The Vindicator this week.

There was damage to the rear of the vehicle Sheets was driving.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has handled the investigation into the shooting. On Thursday, Steve Irwin, BCI spokesman, said the investigation “remains active and ongoing. Once completed, BCI’s investigation will be referred to the county prosecutor.”

Struthers Law Director John Zomoida Jr., who released the body camera footage to the news media from his office in the city administration building, said Friday that no audio was removed from the video.

Struthers police said the seven-mile chase began at a drive-thru about a block away from the police station when Sheets hit a Struthers officer’s car while the officer was trying to make a traffic stop.

The officer said Sheets tried to ram his cruiser in the drive-thru.

A little less than four minutes after the gunfire began, the officer who fired starts walking toward the driver’s window of Sheets’ car while holding a shield that blocked much of the view of the body camera.

He said something about a gun, then said more clearly that the gun was “on the floor board” of Sheets’ car.

erunyan@vindy.com

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