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Published: Thursday, 7/31/2008

Doctor tells Allen County jury Wilson wasn't standing when shot in drug raid

BY JENNIFER FEEHAN
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Lima police Sgt. Joe Chavalia, right, talks to his lawyers in a break in his trial in Allen County Common Pleas Court yesterday in the fatal shooting of Tarika Wilson in a drug raid. Lima police Sgt. Joe Chavalia, right, talks to his lawyers in a break in his trial in Allen County Common Pleas Court yesterday in the fatal shooting of Tarika Wilson in a drug raid.
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LIMA, Ohio - A forensic pathologist who conducted the autopsy of Tarika Wilson said the petite, 5-foot, 2-inch woman was hunched over or on her knees in an upstairs bedroom when she was fatally shot by Lima police Sgt. Joe Chavalia.

Dr. Diane Barnett, a Lucas County deputy coroner, told the jury hearing evidence in Sergeant Chavalia's trial the two bullets that pierced Wilson's neck traveled from front to back in a downward path, although the police officer who fired at her was on the stairway below her.

"Ms. Wilson was in a position where she was down. She was hunched over or she could've possibly been on her knees," Dr. Barnett said. "If she was standing and received these wounds, they would've gone upward."

Her testimony prompted John Foy, a firearms instructor, to conclude that Wilson was in the process of complying with commands to "get on the ground" when she was shot.

"It would seem to me the deceased was probably complying [with the order to get down] at that point," Mr. Foy said. Sergeant Chavalia's attorney immediately objected.

Visiting Judge Richard Knepper sustained the objection, meaning jurors were to disregard the statement.

The prosecution rested its case about 3:45 p.m. yesterday after two full days of testimony in Sergeant Chavalia's trial in Allen County Common Pleas Court.

The 52-year-old is charged with misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide for Wilson's Jan. 4 death during a drug raid at her Third Street home and negligent assault for the wounding of Wilson's 1-year-old son, Sincere, who was in her arms at the time.

Autopsy photos and a discussion of her wounds prompted Wilson's mother and some other family members to leave the courtroom.

Dr. Barnett said the bullets struck major veins and arteries that would have caused her to "immediately" bleed profusely.

She said toxicology tests showed that Wilson, 26, had neither alcohol nor drugs in her system when she died.

Mr. Foy, a law enforcement training officer at the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy in London, Ohio, testified that he believed Sergeant Chavalia had "insufficient target identification" when he fired his fully automatic Colt rifle from the stairs at what has been described as a shadowy figure that leaned in and out of a bedroom door on the house's second floor.

He was looking through a stair rail at the time.

"From that angle, there's not much to see," Mr. Foy said.

While Sergeant Chavalia is expected to take the stand in his own defense, his attorneys and some officers who took the stand have said the 31-year police veteran believed he was being fired at after he saw the shadowy figure duck in and out of a doorway upstairs and heard gunshots.

The shots actually were fired at two pit bull dogs set loose on SWAT team members from a downstairs bedroom by the target of the drug raid, Wilson's boyfriend, Anthony Terry.

Lt. Chris Protsman, commander of the SWAT team, said soon after the team entered Wilson's house the night of the raid, he had his eye on a door off the kitchen when the door opened and he saw Terry peek out and release the dogs.

He shot one of the dogs, while Officer David Gillespie shot the other. Soon after, he said he heard another shot from somewhere else

Upon questioning by Special Prosecutor Jeff Strausbaugh, the lieutenant said Terry presented a threat to the officers, although the dogs, which he could see clearly before shooting, were a more immediate threat to their safety.

After the dogs were shot, he said he ordered Terry to lay down in the doorway and show officers his hands.

Terry, who is now serving seven years in prison for his conviction on drug charges, complied after the order was given "two or three times," Lieutenant Protsman said.

After Terry was secured, he said he heard a commotion from upstairs and saw officers bringing children downstairs. The commander proceeded upstairs where he found Sergeant Chavalia in the hallway.

"I said, 'Joe, what happened?' He said, 'They were firing at me from the bedroom and I shot back,'•" Lieutenant Protsman recalled the sergeant saying.

In the bedroom down the hall, he said he saw an obviously deceased Wilson slumped against the wall and saw another officer administering first aid to a child on the bed.

When he encountered Sergeant Chavalia again in the hall, he said the sergeant grabbed him by his vest. "It appeared to me he had just been through a highly stressful and emotional event," Lieutenant Protsman said.

Special Agent Karen Rebori, who investigated the shooting for the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation, said Sergeant Chavalia cooperated with investigators after the shooting, telling them he aimed and fired at what he described as "a partial target that was moving," a figure he believed to be an adult.

"He said normally you do identify a target before you discharge a firearm, but said bullets can come through drywall, bullets penetrate objects, and he was in fear for his life," Ms. Rebori said.

Like other officers who have testified in the trial, Lieutenant Protsman said SWAT team members are trained to return gunfire when fired upon.

"If an officer is presented with the use of deadly force, they are justified in the use of deadly force," he said.

The defense is expected to begin calling its witnesses when the trial resumes at 9 a.m. today.

Contact Jennifer Feehan at:

jfeehan@theblade.com

or 419-353-5972.



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