LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Jefferson Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Wine said Wednesday that the shooting death of Darnell Wicker by two Louisville Metro Police officers was justified.
"It's our decision these two officers will not be charged," and the evidence will not be presented to a grand jury, Wine said at the end of a lengthy press conference. He told reporters Wicker had a weapon and that the officers "perceived a real and substantial threat to their lives and the lives of others" when they shot him.
Wicker did not respond to police commands and the officers had only seconds to make a decision, Wine said.
Asked why he didn't let a grand jury of citizens review the case, Wine told a reporter it is his "responsibility to decide whether or not I have evidence to prove a crime was committed and ... there is no question in our review this shooting was justified. If had a question, I would have given it to a grand jury."
Before the press conference, Wine said he met with Wicker's daughters and their attorney and, "they are hurting."
Sam Aguiar, who represents Wicker's family, said in a phone interview that, "once again we have another situation where officers can engage in this kind of reckless conduct and not be held accountable for it." He said he adamantly disagrees with Wine's conclusion and that more information would come out in a pending federal wrongful death lawsuit against the city and police.
"The public will be real surprised when they see other evidence," he said. "There's lots to come."
Mayor Greg Fischer praised the police department's transparency in the shooting - including releasing body cam video within 15 hours - but said in a statement that he has asked Chief Steve Conrad to "take a close look at the steps that the officers took and did not take in this shooting.
"He must rigorously evaluate our police training, policies and procedures, including those related to deescalation and individuals with mental illness or drug abuse problems."
During the press conference, Wine presented a PowerPoint presentation, including a 911 call from the Aug. 8, 2016 shooting, in which a woman told police Wicker kicked in a door and was holding a knife. He also showed police body cam videos of the shooting, with Wicker's body blurred.
A toxicology report said Wicker had cocaine in his system, Wine told reporters.
"He had consumed a considerable amount of cocaine sometime earlier," Wine said.
Two LMPD officers responding to a domestic disturbance call at apartments on Broadleaf Drive, off Cane Run Road, shot 57-year-old Wicker several times after he walked toward officers and refused to drop a weapon described as tree saw.
Officers Brian Smith, Taylor Banks and Beau Gadegaard responded to the scene, but only two -- Banks and Gadegaard -- opened fire as Wicker approached. He died at University Hospital from multiple gunshot wounds to his torso, upper right extremity and lower extremities.
The officers said Wicker was armed with a tree saw, and swinging it and lunging at them when he was shot. They have been on administrative leave since the shooting.
Wine showed the saw at the press conference, saying "it is not, quote, a flimsy blade. You can see the teeth on this."
Smith said Wicker had a saw "and another object" in his hand, gritted his teeth and "swelled up" before he was shot, according to a police interview played by Wine.
Banks told internal investigators Wicker was swinging a 3 to 5 foot knife by his side, "and kinda swung it," stepping towards police, causing the officer to fear for his life.
And Officer Gadegaard said he looked into Wicker's eyes and saw "pure evil."
"He wanted to get to me, he wanted to hurt me," according to audio of Gadegaard's interview with police investigators.
And the daughter of Wicker's girlfriend told police Wicker waved the saw and did not put it down when instructed to do so by officers.
Wine said Wicker did have some hearing loss, but, "it was not so serious that he could not carry on conversations."
But Aguiar said the video shows Wicker, "takes one step out the door before they start pumping shots into him, 14 times. He was no threat whatsoever."
The officers are under internal investigation to determine if they violated any department policies or procedures.
After the shooting, witnesses including Wicker's girlfriend said officers didn't give him enough time to drop the weapon.
"They just ran up past him -- around him -- and just said, 'Drop your weapon!' Pow! Pow! Pow! Pow!" Anita Jones said. "He had no chance to drop the weapon."
Wicker's daughters filed a lawsuit about a month after the shooting.
The lawsuit claims the officers "unreasonably and unjustifiably cut off their blue lights prior to entering the parking lot of the apartment complex" and those officers "did not announce themselves as law enforcement."
The lawsuit says the officers fired at Wicker "more than seven times within two seconds" of him walking outside. It also mentions that the daughters believe it’s possible that officers targeted their father because of "alleged officer-involved scuffles" with Wicker from 2003.
In addition, the lawsuit alleges that Banks and Gadegaard were, "deliberately indifferent to Wicker’s medical needs" because they failed to render aid while waiting for EMS to arrive after the shooting and knew, or should have known, that Wicker was bleeding to death and "their aid and intervention was necessary to increase the likelihood" of his survival.
Attorneys for the officers argued in their motion to dismiss the lawsuit that any claims of alleged negligence by officers in failing to assist Wicker, "must be dismissed" because such care is not required by state law and is a "non-existent constitutional right."
Aguiar says a still photo taken from body cam video shows Wicker was not swinging the saw, because it was, "by his side, next to his tool bucket, and he was not making any kind of lunge."
Wine said, however, the weapon was in Wicker's other hand and what Aguiar is referring to is actually a beam of of light from a crack in the door.
Shortly after Wine announced his determination, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad issued a written statement. That statement is as follows:
We are in receipt of the Commonwealth Attorney’s notice that no charges will be filed against Officers Banks and Gadegaard stemming from the August 8, 2016 shooting of Darnell Wicker.
I can assure you the LMPD Public Integrity Investigation of this case was thorough, methodical and factual. I can appreciate that there will be sincere emotion and concern from some who will not agree with the Commonwealth Attorney’s decision. I believe the Commonwealth Attorney gave careful and deliberate consideration to the facts and evidence in this case and his decision should be respected.
The officers will be returned to normal duty while our Professional Standards Unit (PSU) conducts the administrative investigation of this case to determine if the officers’ actions were in compliance with our policy. I anticipate the PSU case to be completed within the next 90 days. Due to the PSU Investigation, in accordance with KRS 67C.326, as well as a pending civil lawsuit, we are prohibited from speaking further on this particular case at this time.
This case will also be presented for external review by the Citizens Commission on Police Accountability as in every PIU investigation that involves the death of a citizen. The Commission’s job will be to review this case, advise the mayor and me on matters relating to the quality and adequacy of the investigation and make recommendations on possible changes to policy and training.
Any loss of life is a tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers continue to be with all involved in this case – the Wicker family and our officers.
Chief of Police
Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice (L.S.U.R.J.), also issued a statement:
Louisville Showing Up for Racial Justice joins the family of Darnell Wicker and other concerned members of the community to decry a verdict that once again tells us that Black lives do not matter.
Over and over again, in fatal LMPD shootings, even when the evidence seems to point to no immediate danger to officers, police are exonerated and history repeats itself, throughout this country and here in our own Louisville, Kentucky.
It is outrageous that we tolerate the police investigating themselves, while the message over ann over again, is that when Black people are shot by the police, it is always their fault.
This issue is an issue of our shared humanity, goes to the very core of democracy and as a community we need to decide: Do Black Lives Matter?
Late Wednesday afternoon, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer also released a statement:
The August 8th death of Darnell Wicker was a tragedy and a tremendous source of pain for his loved ones and our community. For my administration, it has been paramount that we bring transparency and accountability to every step of this process.
That is why we released the body camera footage about 15 hours after the shooting. It is why Chief Conrad and his staff immediately briefed Mr. Wicker’s family and the community on the process that would take place. It is that desire and demand for transparency that led Commonwealth Attorney Wine to conduct a thorough investigation – and then laid out his findings in detail before the public. I deeply appreciate the exhaustive review he conducted, while I understand that the conclusion he came to may disappoint some people.
As we move into the next phase of this process, LMPD will now conduct a thorough investigation to determine if the officers involved followed all department policies and procedures.
I have asked Chief Conrad to take a close look at the steps that the officers took and did not take in this shooting. He must also rigorously evaluate our police training, policies and procedures, including those related to de-escalation and individuals with mental illness or drug abuse problems.
Our police officers have an incredibly difficult, dangerous and critical job to do for our community. LMPD has been transparent throughout this process and will continue to be transparent with the public about the investigation and its findings – they understand that transparency, honesty and accountability are essential to maintaining the public’s trust.
Our country has a painful history of discrimination between some police officers and some communities of color. Locally, I am committed to doing everything possible we can to address and heal the wounds of the past by listening and responding to our community’s thoughts and concerns, treating all citizens fairly and respecting the rights guaranteed them by our Constitution.
Wine also explained his decision in a letter to LMPD investigators.
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