Coroner's Jury: Bourbon Officer Justified in Fatal Shooting
Posted: Wednesday, March 12, 2014 10:11 am
The Bourbon police officer who shot and killed Gary Wenzel last Wednesday was justified in his actions, a Crawford County coroner's inquest jury ruled late Tuesday.
Wenzel, who had had several run-ins with Franklin County and St. Clair police in the past, was shot three times and killed by Bourbon Police Officer Carl Storm between 10:30 and 10:45 a.m. after a high-speed chase that ended north of the town.
"The shooting was ruled to be justified," Missouri Highway Patrol Troop I Public Information Officer Sgt. Dan Crain told The Missourian Wednesday morning.
Crain said the patrol's Division of Drug and Crime Control continues to investigate the shooting.
According to published reports, the six jurors, along with the victim’s family members, media, and interested citizens, listened to nearly a dozen law enforcement officers describe their respective roles in investigating last week’s fatal shooting of Wenzel, 50, on Highway J and Fann Road two miles north of Bourbon.
The March 5 pursuit began at about 10:30 a.m. when Storm attempted to stop a black, Chevrolet Cavalier because it matched a car that was involved in a chase on Feb. 21 in and around Sullivan, the highway patrol reported.
The published reports stated that the dash-camera police video shown during the inquest revealed that the Cavalier crashed into a ditch at the Highway J and Fann Road intersection about 11 minutes after the chase began. The police vehicle stopped about 15 feet away.
After Wenzel unsuccessfully tried to back up his car, he exited and walked quickly toward the police car with his arms swinging and hands open.
The video showed that within seconds, Wenzel fell to the ground. He died at the scene after being shot three times — in the thigh, chest and head.
For more, see the Weekend Missourian.
It was easier for me to post the article from The Missourian rather than the link to that article. I did not know Gary Wentzel or his shooter, Carl Storm, although I have likely talked with Carl many times without knowing his name. Security work has a small link to law enforcement and we do have common courtesies. There are certain times that we need each other.
Comments are welcome here. I will post the latest rumor and gossip on this as it comes.
Notice that the article says Wentzel had run -ins with Franklin County and St. Clair police in the past. St. Clair is in Franklin County. I'm hearing that Wenzel has done prison time for felony and theft, and was well known to Sullivan and Bourbon police, with those two towns being about 6 miles apart. One report we heard here is that years ago Wentzel even threw rocks at the police. He was a local. Lots of people knew him.
With that being said, why did Bourbon persist in the pursuit when Sullivan had given up or dropped out? The procedure would have been to have got together about 1 AM and everyone go to his residence to arrest him. That seems to work well for everyone else.
Notice again that drug units are involved and continue investigating. Was Wentzel going to sell some drugs or rat someone out? Other reports of his shooting say he had "outstanding warrents." Whatever happened here, Wentzel was an unarmed man, driving like a maniac and pursued by an officer also "driving like a maniac." What about public safety?
In the beginning local police for Sullivan and Bourbon, Mo. refused to comment on this case or give the officer's name. Later they reportedly said "my god, nothing like this has ever happened around here before." Rumor has it that the exonerated officer will be let go quietly and the city of Bourbon will be sued for wrongful death. I'm hearing that Wentzel's children are hireing a high powered attorney that specializes in such cases. Wentzel lived with his oldest daughter who said he didn't deserve this, was targeted, and that he worked a dry wall job and was trying to get his life back together.
Notice again that the article on this shooting has Wentzel exiting his crashed vehicle with his "arms swinging and hands open." This is pretty much a normal gate for a fast walk towards the police car, and Wentzel was unarmed. He should have NEVER of done this, but officer Storm has stated that he was "afraid for his life" and rumor has it that Storm was "standing his ground." I've heard too much on this one before ever since Florida enacted it and we had the Zimmermann/Martin shooting. Wake up! We do not need "a law." We all have a right to stand our ground.
With this all said, I'm not sure I would want to be officer Storm once this is all over and settled.
I'm working on the theory that the 6 jurors were sitting on a coroner's inquest. I can think of lots of ways this could have been avoided. Like drawing down on Wentzel as he's approaching the squad and ordering him to the ground. If he failed to comply, fire a tazer into him. Unless he was so whacked on PCP or something else, he'd be on the ground immediately. And, all ready to be handcuffed.
As to the high speed chase itself, without knowing how many innocent lives on the road Wentzel endangered or almost killed, I can't automatically say it was unjustified. Had he caused wrecks in the chase which injured innocent motorists, then he becomes a fleeing felon. It's not so much stand your ground as it is more of the laws regarding use of deadly force on fleeing felons who are themselves using deadly force (a vehicle can certainly be used as a weapon).
I'm not saying Officer Storm was justified in the use of deadly force, but to be honest, I have more sympathy for him than I do Wentzel. When initially given a signal to stop, Wentzel could have done that. It may very well have been, "Well, this really isn't the car we're looking, so have a nice day." Instead, he chose to initiate a series of events, highly dangerous in nature and by his own volition, which tragically resulted in his death.
I agree, Pat, and your first paragraph says plenty. There is no idication that Wentzel had these options and we know that him approaching the squad car in the first place was a wrong move. You are to stay inside your vehicle and let the officer tell you what to do. This much is a given.
They know for a fact that the Wentzel car was the one they wanted. Wentzel had outstanding warrents, they say.
As to the high speed chase, it was not needed. Wentzel was known to the locals and they knew where he lived. He would not run unless he was being chased, so why endanger the public. Just get the police of Sullivan and Bourbon together and arrest him at home about 1 PM. That way nobobdy is killed. At least most of the time.
My sympathy for Wentzel is only in the fact that he is dead and did not have to be. I'm sure the shot that killed him was the head shot. I'm just as sure that the other 2 shots fired would have knocked him to the ground and have stopped his advance. While officer Storm can claim he was "in fear of his life" because of this unarmed man, we all know that dead men tell no tales.
Perhaps officer Storm should not be a police officer.
I don't mean to denigrate all police officers, many of whom are fine and honorable people, but for my safety I treat them as if they're armed, dangerous, and not necessarily rational. I've had cop friends (all, by the way, military combat veterans) who, over a few beers, are likely to speak of the incredible thrill of chasing human prey. When an officer is involved in a high-speed car chase, they probably are already emotionally committed to it as a life or death situation, which it is. Few of us can quickly reign in those powerful emotions at the crux of the conflict and pull back from the final kill. You see these predator tendencies in wannabe cops like George Zimmerman, and hope that real cops exhibit more self control. They usually do, but the chance that they won't is high enough that I don't give them benefit of doubt. The only safe way to deal with police is to offer a conspicuous gesture of submission, which Wenzel in this case clearly didn't do.
Another trait that all of my cop friends shared was personal experience with divorce involving domestic violence. Police work is stressful and often thankless, and that's bound to eventually breed cynicism and have ripple effects on personal relationships. But it also tends to attract personalities with a domination complex. There are some Andy Taylors in police work, but there are also some Dirty Harrys, and none are either all of one or all of the other all the time. Since you can't reliably tell with which you're dealing, I treat them as a necessary evil of a functioning society and give them the widest possible berth.
Thanks for your input, Ted, and I certainly agree with everything you have said here. I treat the armed officers the same way you do (best to be safe) but I do have officer friends and I'm also a non-gun carrying security officer. I know the mentality well because years ago when I roomed with a gun carrying security officer he was trying to figure out how to shoot and get credit for killing a rapist that was on the loose. This man had killed and had mounted almost any animal you can think of, and HPD didn't want him as well as the Texas prison system. This was why he ended up a security officer, but I didn't think he should even be carrying. In any ways a nice guy, but he was an accident waiting to happen.
I've known security guards who were lovely old people who just wanted a post-retirement quiet job where their most drastic action might be making a phone call. I've also known several who were failed cops, and those are the ones that I worry about. The George Zimmermans of the world are yet a rung lower -- someone who pursues authoritarianism with deadly force as sort of a hobby.
I've stood guard in the military with a loaded rifle, and understood that it might be my task to kill someone. I did it reluctantly, and am not even sure that I could have carried out my duty if required. I was a lousy guard. The better ones had enthusiasm for that prospect, and it's those guys who mostly become cops or security guards or neighborhood watchers in a society not exactly at war but exhibiting some of the attributes of war like dark, shadowy hooded figures carrying Skittles who aren't where some self-important armed nut thinks they should be.
I'm that first type of security guard. We are over a campground area enforcing rules and regulations, collecting fees, and generally keeping the peace. We protect our campers and little children, and once I stopped a speeder going about 60 mph. You have authority to kick people out if they become problems, and sometimes you have to make that phone call for county officers to come in. They are usually there in about 10 minutes which is really super fast. Our uniforms look just like theirs and it's hard to tell us apart. I've had to investigate boating accidents, and once took the keys of a doped up and drunk person causing problems and so messed up they could hardly walk. Then you get them back to their tent area to sleep it off.Someone asked if that was legal to do, and my reply is that you are enforcing public safety. Of course it's legal. County officers backed me up on that one.
Some of the people there seem to think I'm a senior person and sort of "in charge." This isn't true, but they like to tell me their complaints with things and with other security people too. Sometimes they have valid issues and I do my best to resolve these things. This is pretty much what I do in a job that I have because social security just is not enough. Overall, the job is very satisfying and rewarding.
The Cuba Free Press has now got the story of the Gary Wentzel shooting and tells things a little differently. In that paper the officer becomes "Carl Strong" but many locals say his name is Storm. Rumor has it that he was called "C-Star" and that he's back at work already.
Wentzel reportedly had "outstanding warrents" but proof of those has never been forthcoming. It was stated flatly that he had a warrent for "health and safety violations." (What would that mean?) In this new version of events officer Storm said that he recognized the car Wentzel was in from the Sullivan police report, looked over and recognized Wentzel, and the chase was on.
The Cuba Free Press has Wentzel exiting his crashed car and then walking towards officer Storm, but then he turns and it's like he's walking away. Seconds after Wentzel is out of camera range he is gunned down with shots to the thigh, pelvis, and the head.
Other officers arriving at the scene, and even the coroner, said that officer Storm was justified in the shooting, but how would they know? You arrive to see an unarmed dead man on the ground. This same idea was upheld in the coronor's jury, lawmen and ex-lawmen who were 6 people that were not witnesses at the crime scene. Witneses of the scene but not witnesses at the scene at the time of the shooting.
Gary Wentzel's past was discussed along with his general disdain for cops, but it was admitted that he was not known to carry a gun. Officer Storm's past was not mentioned in any way and he was not there to testify like the 6 others were. Three of Wentzel's children were present at this coroner's jury, and one wore a shirt asking for justice for her father.
Today I'm coming back from Sullivan and pass by 2 of Wentzel's daughter's on the street. They are marching all over town carrying a sign that reads "Carl Storm murdered our dad." Someone told me that 2 other daughters were with them earlier in the day. The citizens of Bourbon are not reacting much, most likely for fear of getting tickets in retaliation if they seem to sympathize. Normally things like this do not happen here.
Rumor has it that this is not over yet.
You can Google or Bing all this info and get the story too. Shooting in Bourbon, Mo. might work. Also try Gary Wentzel shot dead.
The original upper part of my post here came from a newspaper, The Missourian.