December 18, 2014

Elyria
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Grand jury rules police justified in fatal shooting

Police stand outside the West River Road home of William King on July 15, 2012, after the 50-year-old Elyrian was shot by Elyria officers. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

Police stand outside the West River Road home of William King on July 15, 2012, after the 50-year-old Elyrian was shot by Elyria officers. CHRONICLE FILE PHOTO

ELYRIA — The three Elyria police officers who shot and killed William King during a standoff last year will not face criminal charges, a Lorain County grand jury has ruled.

William King

William King

Police surrounded the West River Road North home King shared with his wife, Donna King, minutes after he called 911 just after 5 p.m. on July 15, 2012, and said he had shot his wife and was going to shoot himself.

For the next half-hour, police dispatcher Fran Ross talked by phone with William King, urging him to put his gun down and surrender. Dispatchers also learned that he was alone in the house and Donna King was alive and on her way back from a festival.

Ross wasn’t alone in trying to convince the 50-year-old man to surrender, according to a report on the incident prepared by Lorain County sheriff’s Lt. Donald Barker, who led the investigation.

Officers John Matula III and Jacob Webber told Barker that they were at the southeast corner of the house and that they could see King going in and out of the house. They reported that when he came outside, they would try to talk to him and when he went inside they would take cover behind the house.

Webber said that when he first arrived at the scene, Matula yelled at King to drop his gun, later determined to be an unloaded semiautomatic .25-caliber pistol that would “not reliably fire.” King told them he had messed up but didn’t want to hurt anyone before going back inside.

In total, police estimated that King came outside four or five times during the standoff. Barker wrote in his report that when the house was later searched, officers found a police scanner locked into the Elyria police frequency.

“It is apparent that Mr. King was listening to the Elyria Police Department(’s) radio traffic then would go to the door when he heard information on the scanner that he wanted to respond to,” Barker wrote.

Just before King was shot, he told Ross that he was going to put his gun down.

But Webber, who was armed with an M4 assault rifle, told Barker that when King next appeared in the doorway he was pointing the pistol at his own head.

“Mr. King advised ‘I don’t want to hurt you guys,’ with that Mr. King lowered the hand gun to his chest/stomach area,” Barker wrote Webber told him. “After lowering the gun to his chest/stomach area Mr. King turned his wrist and pointed the gun at Officers Matula and Webber.”

Matula, who was armed with a .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol, estimated that he and Webber were between 10 and 12 feet away from King when they opened fire. Webber told Barker that he was “scared for his safety and the safety of Officer Matula.”

They weren’t the only officers who fired. Officer Dan Marsico, who was at a window facing King’s home inside a neighboring house, also shot at King after seeing him point a gun at his fellow officers.

“He advised that he fired at nearly the same time Officers Matula and Webber had fired,” Barker wrote.

Barker determined that Marsico fired five rounds, while Matula fired 10 rounds. Both had 13-round magazines in their weapons. It was less clear how many times Webber fired his rifle, Barker wrote, because Webber couldn’t say how many bullets he had in the gun when he pulled the trigger.

Barker estimated that Webber fired seven or eight shots. In total, Barker deduced that the three officers fired no fewer than 15 and no more than 23 rounds at King.

After King was hit, police reported that he fell back into the house and they rushed in and handcuffed him before removing the gun and administering first aid. King’s wounds proved fatal, and he was pronounced dead at MetroHealth Medical Center in Cleveland.

The Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office reported that he died from seven gunshot wounds to his torso and extremities. The autopsy and subsequent tests also revealed that King had been drinking and had antidepressants in his system. Ketamine, an anesthetic, was also found in his system, but medical records indicated that King was administered that drug while medical personnel were trying to save his life.

Barker concluded that King wanted officers to kill him.

“It is reasonable to believe that Mr. King’s intentions were for his own destruction as his weapon was not loaded which he would have reasonably known,” he wrote in his report.

But Lorain County Prosecutor Dennis Will said it was impossible to know if King wanted to commit “suicide by cop.”

“I don’t think it was definitive from the evidence that that’s what occurred,” he said.

King’s family has raised concerns about the shooting, including whether King actually pointed a gun at police. Donna King wrote in an undated letter included with the investigative file released by Will’s office Tuesday that she believes police mistook her husband’s cell phone — which police determined had been hit by a bullet — for a gun.

“As far as I’m concerned, the Elyria Police Dept. murdered my husband in cold blood,” Donna King wrote. “I don’t believe for one second that my husband pointed the gun at them.”

Elyria Police Chief Duane Whitely said while he hadn’t reviewed the full report and couldn’t comment on specifics, he was pleased his officers were cleared in the shooting.

“I had confidence in the officers that they acted properly and the grand jury supported that,” Whitely said.

Contact Brad Dicken at 329-7147 or bdicken@chroniclet.com.