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Two Toledo police officers — both rookies in the department — have been placed on a three-day paid administrative leave after the fatal shooting of a 19-year-old man Friday morning.
Officers Benjamin Cousino, 24, and Jesuse Cordero, 36, were hired by the department Nov. 15.
Killed was Darrell James Parnell of Toledo, who police say was involved in a “violent struggle” with Officer Cousino when the officer fired a single shot, striking Parnell in the chest.
(Related audio: Telecommunications from responding officers' microphones. This audio clip is 30 minutes and 30 seconds, the most critical parts of which begin at the 29-minute mark.)
At a news conference Friday, Toledo police Chief Derrick Diggs said a preliminary investigation indicates Officer Cousino was “in fear for his safety” when he shot Parnell, but both criminal and administrative investigations, per department policy, are ongoing. “This officer was definitely in fear for his safety,” Chief Diggs said.
The Toledo police shooting is the first this year in which a person was killed.
Lucas County Deputy Coroner Cynthia Beisser confirmed that a single gunshot to the chest killed Parnell and no other signs of bruising or struggle were on the man’s body.
She said a Taser barb was stuck to Parnell’s hooded sweatshirt, but Parnell was not struck by a Taser.
Chief Diggs said a 911 call was made at 2:09 a.m. reporting a person breaking into a Jeep parked on the street in the 1300 block of North Michigan Street. Thirteen minutes later, Officers Cousino and Cordero arrived and reported seeing someone standing near the Jeep, which had a broken driver’s side window.
When the officers approached, the suspect resisted and fled, Chief Diggs said.
The officers took off in opposite directions, trying to cut off Parnell. Officer Cousino fired his Taser twice, but apparently did not strike the suspect, Chief Diggs said.
When Officer Cousino caught up with Parnell, a “violent struggle” ensued, with Parnell punching Officer Cousino in the head and face and biting the officer’s arm, Chief Diggs said.
Parnell reportedly tried to grab Officer Cousino’s gun at least three times, the chief said. The officer then reached for his baton, which was taken by Parnell during the struggle.
Chief Diggs said Parnell used the baton to beat Officer Cousino on his head, causing “serious injuries.” While the two were on the ground — in the back yard of 1319 N. Michigan — Officer Cousino was able to reach his department-issued 40-caliber gun, and he fired.
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Recordings of police communications show a dispatcher tried to radio the officers’ unit at least three times before one of the officers could be heard yelling, “shots fired.” After the dispatcher ordered other police crews to hold radio traffic, an officer shouted, “I need help.”
More police crews were sent to the scene, and emergency medical crews were dispatched at 2:27 a.m. to a report of a person shot in an alley.
Parnell was pronounced dead at the scene. Officer Cousino was released after treatment at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center.
Robert Crawford, who lives at 1319 N. Michigan, said he looked out his bathroom window after hearing a commotion and saw Parnell face down in his yard, where the body stayed until almost 6 a.m.
Toledo police Capt. Wes Bombrys said Officer Cordero did not witness the shooting but heard the gunshot and was then able to get to Officer Cousino.
Except for having taken Officer Cousino’s baton, Chief Diggs said, Parnell was not armed.
Shantel Weathers, 22, a cousin of Parnell, said her family has more questions than answers and the family was not notified of the shooting until almost 6 a.m.
She said police should have continued to use a Taser if they had to rather than shoot Parnell. “He wasn’t armed, he had no gun,” Ms. Weathers said. “Why not Tase him — isn’t that what they’re for so they don’t have to kill him?”
She said her cousin had attended Woodward High School in the past and enjoyed drawing and either wanted to be an architect or work on cars.
Amy Foltz, 31, owner of the Jeep that was broke into and a North Michigan Street resident for just eight days, said she was sleeping Friday morning when she heard a boom — what she now presumes was the sound of the window shattering — but thought nothing of it and fell back asleep.
Soon after, she heard a “scuffle” outside, she said, and fences rattling as if someone were jumping over them. Finally, she heard someone yell, “I'm going to Tase you.”
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Other neighbors such as Antoinette Cobble, 33, said she didn’t hear anything Friday morning, even though the struggle happened just outside her home.
She said her niece woke her about 3:30 a.m. when she saw police outside the house with flashlights. She got up, went outdoors, and asked an officer what was going on. The officer responded a homicide had occurred.
“I was in a daze — it was 3:30 in the morning, so I didn’t think anything of it. I got back in bed and said, ‘Did she just say homicide?’ ” Ms. Cobble said.
Ms. Cobble, who works at a nursing home, said police were still outside when she had to leave for work Friday morning, and officers had to lift crime-scene tape so she could leave the street. She returned by 8 a.m. because her children were too scared to be home alone.
Ms. Cobble said the neighborhood generally is safe, but her house was broken into in January and now with the shooting happening so close to home, she's gone from being “scared” to “terrified.”
“What if they were shooting crazy and a bullet went through the window and killed one of my kids?” she asked.
It doesn’t help either, she said, that Toledo police Detective Keith Dressel was shot and killed less than three blocks away in February, 2007.
In 2008, Officer Cousino was the first person to be awarded a scholarship in Detective Dressel’s name. Officer Cousino’s father, Terry Cousino, is a detective with the department.
Officer Cousino could not be reached at his home Friday.
Chief Diggs said he talked to both Officers Cousino and Cordero on Friday and both are “doing well and they're handling the situation as best as can be expected.”
With a class of 40 recruits in the Toledo Police Academy, Chief Diggs stopped there Friday to speak with the future officers.
“I took the opportunity to remind them that, you know, at times this can be a dangerous job. It can be a great job, but at times it can be a dangerous job,” Chief Diggs said.
“I utilized the situation to remind them to take training seriously, they need to listen to their instructors. I put it out how Officer Cousino and Officer Cordero, their training kicked in and it allowed them to be able to survive the violent encounter that they survived,” the chief continued.
At the time of his death, Parnell was wanted on a warrant issued by Lucas County in July for a probation violation related to an attempted felonious assault on June 3, 2011.
A year ago, Parnell pleaded no contest to, and was convicted of, attempted felonious assault as part of a plea bargain and was sentenced to five years of community control.
He had been charged with felonious assault on accusations of attacking a clerk at a carryout on Magnolia Street who had ordered him to leave the store because he had stolen a beer.
That assault put Keith Rasmussen in a hospital for four days with a broken wrist and eye socket and “numerous” brain bruises, according to court records and Captain Bombrys.
As part of his sentence, handed down a month after his conviction, Judge Ruth Ann Franks ordered Parnell to spend six months in the Correctional Treatment Facility followed by six months of electronic monitoring.
Captain Bombrys said he did not know if Parnell was on electronic monitoring at the time of the shooting.
Chief Diggs said the department will continue to investigate the shooting. Once the criminal investigation ends, the case will be forwarded to a Lucas County grand jury. An administrative investigation report will be sent to the police department’s Firearms Review Board.
Contact Taylor Dungjen at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6054.