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Published: 1/22/2010

Toledo police use of deadly force ruled justified

BY ERICA BLAKE
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Toledo police officers involved in three fatal shootings - including one involving a 62-year-old mentally ill woman brandishing scissors - acted in self-defense when they fired their weapons, the department's firearm review board concluded yesterday.

The five-member board heard testimony and reviewed evidence related to the three shootings before ruling the officers were justified in using deadly force. Chief Mike Navarre concurred with the decisions, which in effect closed the department's investigations of the incidents.

But for the family of Linda Hicks, who was fatally shot Dec. 15, the decision doesn't answer their questions or quell their concerns.

"I want to get everything all together - what happened, what happened in that room, why they shot her so many times. I want to know what happened," said Evelyn Patterson, Ms. Hicks' aunt who raised her and her two children.

"I don't feel good," she said of the incident. "I can't sleep at night worrying about what they did to her."

Ms. Hicks was shot and killed by a police officer responding to a call of a mentally ill person who had become violent. After a confrontation, Officer Diane Chandler, 33, who has been a member of the department since 2006, fired at least three shots, killing Ms. Hicks.

The officer since has been cleared of criminal charges when a Lucas County grand jury declined to indict her on a charge of murder with a gun specification.

Yesterday, she and her partner testified before the firearm review board about what happened in a small room at the Marria's Adult Family Home, 1321 Fernwood Ave., where Ms. Hicks lived. Chief Navarre said civilian witnesses, including the owner of the group home and a maintenance man, declined to testify at the hearing.

According to police reports of the shooting, the officers arrived at the scene quickly and were told that Ms. Hicks had not been taking her medication and was threatening people with a pair of scissors.

Ms. Hicks was found lying on the bed and was concealing her hands, police said.

She refused to comply when the two female officers ordered her to show her hands, and attempts to subdue her with a Taser failed.

Authorities said that Ms. Hicks then got up from the bed with the scissors in her hand and advanced toward Officer Chandler.

The board, made up of a deputy chief, three command officers, and a member of the union, decided that Officer Chandler acted in self-defense.

"It's a difficult one for the community, but the fact of the matter is that officers have the right to defend themselves just like any other citizen," Chief Navarre said yesterday. "They are unfortunately put into that situation more often because of the nature of the work that they do."

Chief Navarre acknowledged the community outcry in the weeks following Ms. Hicks' death.

He said the department is evaluating officer training and updating the curriculum for the specialized Crises Intervention Training or CIT.

He added that he hopes to have a class of officers undergo the updated training as soon as April.

"I would be the first to admit that we need to do more [reality-based training] with our officers. There's a lot of validity to the opinion that law enforcement, in general, needs to do more training not only on how to shoot, but when to shoot," the chief said.

Pointing to the significant decrease in police officers over the last few years, the chief said it is increasingly difficult to take officers off the streets and put them into training. But he said it remains a priority for his department.

The chief added that he has personally invited some of those who have been vocal in their criticisms of the department to experience the same reality-based training that police officers must complete.

"Hopefully they will take me up on that," he said. "Not only it will provide them with a good opportunity to experience the difficulty of being a police officer - and it's the closest I can come to putting them in a police officer's shoes - but it will also provide a forum to open that discussion."

Attorney Chuck Boyk said yesterday that he hopes to learn more about what happened by reviewing the records, which will be made public today.

Mr. Boyk said he represents Ms. Hicks' family, including her aunt, two children, and 11 grandchildren.

He said the family wants to review the facts of the case and enlist the help of experts to make their own determinations of the circumstances surrounding Ms. Hicks' death.

"I'm not surprised at the result when the police investigate themselves, and I'm interested in whether they evaluated whether or not the officers created the situation," he said. "Our intention is to gather all that information, review it, and go to experts in the field."

Ms. Patterson described her niece yesterday as a "jolly" person who liked to play cards and knit. She admitted that Ms. Hicks had mental issues, but said she never had seen her hurt anybody.

"She needed to be handled differently. They should have sent somebody else there," she said.

Also reviewed yesterday were the shootings of a man who stabbed his mother and assaulted officers with a pipe as well as a man who shot at a bar before being fired upon by officers. Both shootings were ruled justified.

On Oct. 29, police shot and killed Pyon Simmons, 29, after he stabbed his mother, Su Simmons, and attacked responding officers with pipes. The incident started when, unprovoked, Simmons stabbed his mother inside their home, police said.

When she went outside, he stabbed her again, Ms. Simmons told police.

Simmons injured two officers seriously by hitting them with the metal pipes he carried before he was shot four times.

Alvin Tate, 28, of 4423 Cape Lane died Nov. 9 in Toledo Hospital. He had been shot by police two days earlier outside a central city bar.

The incident occurred outside Big Shots tavern at 931 West Central Ave. after Tate had first fired multiple rounds.

His 9-mm semiautomatic handgun had the capacity to hold 17 rounds and only two were left, authorities said.

Contact Erica Blake at:

eblake@theblade.com

or 419-213-2134.



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