A Kansas county attorney on Tuesday declared the use of deadly force by officers in the recent shooting of a teenager to have been justified.
Several police officers and sheriff’s deputies shot and killed Joseph Jennings, 18, in the parking lot of an Ottawa store on Aug. 23.
Jennings had been pacing back and forth before he pulled what several officers thought was a firearm from his waistband and pointed it at them, according to a review released Tuesday. The officers then shot Jennings.
Franklin County Attorney Stephen Hunting declared the use of deadly force to have been “lawful and justified.”
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Jennings had been treated at a hospital for an apparent suicide attempt the day before, according to the summary released Tuesday by authorities. He had been scheduled to appear in Franklin County District Court on Aug. 25 for arraignment on a robbery case.
A married couple with whom Jennings lived told authorities he had been worried about possibly going to prison.
On Aug. 23, officers responded after a dispatcher received a call from someone describing a man walking with a gun in the store’s parking lot and then later cocking the gun and putting it inside the waistband of his pants. Police later determined that Jennings had made the call.
Jennings did not respond to several requests from surrounding officers to surrender and continued to keep his left hand near his waistline.
Officers first fired two bean bags at Jennings, according to the report. After the second bean bag, Jennings “quickly and aggressively raised his left hand out of his waistband.” He extended his arm suddenly toward the officers, several of whom fired at him.
The officers involved in the shooting, interviewed individually afterward, reported they saw “what appeared to be a dark object in Mr. Jennings’ left hand.” Each of the officers who fired indicated that it had been their belief that Jennings held a firearm.
The review found that three Ottawa police officers and two county sheriff’s deputies fired at Jennings. An autopsy revealed he had been struck about eight or nine times.
Although authorities did not locate a handgun near Jennings’ body, they did recover a pair of black sunglasses.
“The results of this indicate that Mr. Jennings was never armed with an actual handgun,” the summary concluded. “Rather this suggests that Mr. Jennings was likely holding a pair of black sunglasses that he held and quickly drew as one who was trying to point a handgun.”
Ottawa Police Chief Dennis Butler, in a prepared statement, described department employees as “devastated” by the incident and offered his “sincerest condolences to the family and friends of Joseph Jennings.” He added that police officers are authorized by law to take the necessary steps to protect the lives of others and themselves.
These decisions, he said, “are based on what is happening in their presence at that moment, not what they may find out later.”