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Ohio BCI probes 44 officer-involved shootings

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation has probed 44 officer-involved critical incidents in the state so far during 2022 — including three open cases in the Mahoning Valley.

According to statistics provided by Steven Irwin, spokesman for Attorney General Dave Yost who oversees the BCI, three investigations of shootings involving police officers in the Mahoning Valley are open.

These investigations are the April 1 case involving Youngstown and Struthers police, the June 10 mid-afternoon shooting in which a Liberty police officer shot a suspect fleeing a drive-by shooting on Belmont Avenue and a July 19 shooting involving an Ohio State Highway Patrol trooper in Austintown.

“BCI investigates potential crimes, including officer-involved critical incidents when requested to do so by a law enforcement agency or prosecutor per Ohio Revised Code,” Irwin said. The amount of manpower used by BCI depends on the scope and scale of the incidents.

Irwin said the agency’s Special Investigation Unit consists of 30 agents and four supervisors who serve as investigators and work in tandem with the agency’s Crime Scene Unit that deploys 13 agents statewide. This group is supported by the agency’s Criminal Intelligence Unit, Cyber Crimes Unit and the BCI laboratory located in Richfield.

Because of the continuing investigations, Irwin said he can’t give many details about the Mahoning Valley incidents.

LOCAL CASES

Here are summaries:

* April 1 — Two Struthers police officers were involved in the officer-involved shooting death of James J. Sheets, 35, who was chased from downtown Struthers to the West Side of Youngstown and stopped at Steel Street and Salt Springs Road. Body camera footage from one of the officers showed the shooting, which happened at 5:13 p.m. The footage showed that the officer’s chest camera was partially blocked by the other Struthers cruiser that was next to 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 captured Sheets only 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 says.

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 uttered an expletive two times.

At about that same time it becomes apparent that a third officer, apparently from the Youngstown Police Department, is there. Three officers point their weapons at Sheets, the footage shows.

* June 10 — Kevin Mallard, 55, of Youngstown, is accused of approaching, shooting and blinding a 20-year-old Warren resident, as the victim sat behind the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz as he stopped for a traffic signal about 3 p.m. at the corner of Belmont Avenue and East Liberty Street.

Mallard has appeared before Judge Ronald J. Rice in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court in a wheelchair because he was shot by Liberty police officers who had pursued his Hummer after the initial shooting.

Mallard had asked Rice at the arraignment if could ask to receive the death penalty, then was told it was not an option for him.

Court records show Mallard is accused by police of shooting Zach Woods, 20, at arm’s length in the temple with a Glock .40-caliber weapon, while at the corner of Belmont Avenue and East Liberty Street.

The indictment states Mallard walked back to his Humvee after the shooting and drove off.

Police officers responding to the shooting, however, stopped the Humvee and a shootout began — with dozens of shots fired near the busy exit ramp from Interstate 80 eastbound to East Liberty Street.

Reports show police officers struck Mallard in the extremities several times.

The BCI investigation is continuing into whether any wrongdoing was done by officers.

* July 18-19 — A 19-hour standoff at an Austintown apartment complex that began on a Monday night ended in gunfire the following afternoon when officers stormed an apartment where a woman with a gun was holed up.

Two to three shots were fired around 4:15 p.m. July 19 after authorities removed an 8-year-old boy from an apartment. Paramedics entered 10 minutes later to remove the woman, identified by police as Imonie Hackett, 31, of 4851 Westchester Drive. She was carried out on a gurney to a waiting ambulance.

Ohio State Highway Patrol, the FBI and Austintown police were on the scene at the time of the shooting. OSHP regional public information officer Sgt. Ryan Purpura would not comment other than confirming that it was an officer-involved shooting. Hackett died Aug. 25 at Regency Hospital in Warrenville Heights.

Family members said Hackett was shot twice — in the neck and face. A report states the woman never regained consciousness.

Reports indicate members of the patrol’s SWAT team were involved in the shooting.

OTHER SHOOTINGS

Irwin stated BCI has completed reports on officer-involved shootings on Jan. 1 involving Canton police; March 7 involving Ontario police in Richland County; March 18 involving East Cleveland police; and March 22 involving North Olmsted police.

After an investigation is complete, Irwin stated, a report is provided to the respective county’s prosecutor’s office, which then forwards it to the requesting agency.

“Those entities may then use the findings to determine the appropriateness of the officer’s action,” Irwin stated. “As a fact-finding agency, BCI does not determine whether or not a use of force was justified nor does it make recommendations regarding charges and / or the appropriateness of the use of force. Those decisions rest with the prosecuting attorney and / or grand jury.”

The investigations also do not address any policy or procedural violations: “BCI is not involved in any decisions pertaining to internal discipline or the involved officer’s return to work.”

Irwin said his agency literally has written the book on how to investigate officer-involved shootings, pointing to the works by longtime agent and now BCI Special Agent in Charge Mark Kollar who wrote “Best Practices for Investigating an Officer-Involved Critical Incident.”

For more information, visit www.ohioattorneygeneral.gov/bestpractices

gvogrin@tribtoday.com

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