Five before Midnight

This site is dedicated to the continuous oversight of the Riverside(CA)Police Department, which was formerly overseen by the state attorney general. This blog will hopefully play that role being free of City Hall's micromanagement.
"The horror of that moment," the King went on, "I shall never, never forget." "You will though," the Queen said, "if you don't make a memorandum of it." --Lewis Carroll


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Location: RiverCity, Inland Empire

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Lee Deante Brown: Anatomy of a shooting

Witness Lynette Wilsey: “You know what? It’s like this. I’m not for sure if the other one shot him or the other one shot him. But does it matter?

Det. Rick Cobb: “Actually it kind of does. We want to know exactly who did it

“Who” in this case was Riverside Police Department officer Terry Ellefson. “Him” was Lee Deante Brown, a Black man in his early 30s who was shot and killed by Ellefson at the Welcome Inn of America in the Eastside neighborhood last April.

What else happened during the two and a half minutes that lapsed between Officer Michael Paul Stucker’s arrival at the Welcome Inn of America and Brown’s shooting, depends on whom you ask.

And ask, they did, the detectives who were assigned to investigate the shooting. They spoke with many civilian witnesses as well as police officers. What resulted was many different accounts of the same shooting, with many differences within them and between them, according to the interview transcripts.

Lynette Wilsey was one of those witnesses. An African-American cleaning woman at the motel, she had been removing graffiti from inside one of the rooms with the manager when she had first seen Brown acting strangely. After she heard him screaming outside, Wilsey had walked up to him and told him to calm down. One of the residents had told her that Brown was on angel dust. She had tried to give him some water but he tossed it aside.

Wilsey stood five feet away from Brown when Officer Michael Paul Stucker first arrived. Stucker had left his vehicle and walked up towards Brown, commanding him to put his hands on the wall. Brown had told the officer, “no”.

Brown had been tased and then struck by an officer’s baton. At some point, Wilsey heard someone scream, “It’s a gun,” after Ellefson had pulled out his gun.

“And then all of a sudden, I heard pow, pow! And the officer shot him! And he didn’t have to shoot him. He was laying right there.”

At first, Wilsey did not believe what she had just seen, then reality set in.

“I thought it was a taser. But it wasn’t a taser. It was the damn gun.”

Rachael Nichole Bacon was in her room at the motel when she first saw Brown outside her window. She said that she believed that Brown was mentally ill, by the way he was acting.

“But just the way he was talking to himself, you could tell that he was mentally ill and needed help.”

Rachael left her room after hearing Stucker yell, “Get down the ground”. She then saw Brown lying face down on the ground and Stucker pointing something toward Brown and yelling at him to “stay on the ground or I’ll shock you again.”

Rachael said that the second officer arrived, and both officers tried to handcuff Brown. At one point, he had been sitting on the sidewalk with one handcuff on, screaming “Mariah, Mariah”. Mariah was his daughter, it turned out. She said both officers tased him and that she heard a woman screaming, “you don’t have to shock him like that”. Then she saw one officer hit Brown with his baton three to four times. One of the investigators asked her if she could hear the taser at that point.

“I couldn’t. I just heard the slamming of the night stick. I couldn’t hear the tasering anymore.”

At one point, Brown had been on his knees and ducking his head, according to Rachael.

“I don’t know what the guy did wrong. I didn’t see any weapons. And he was on the ground when they shot him.”

When the first shot was fired, Rachael turned around to look at her kitchen stove believing that something had “popped” there. Then she heard the second shot and knew who had been hit.

Across the street, maintenance man John Gonzalez was making repairs in a room on the second story of the Budget Inn. He first noticed the activity at the other motel when he heard a police siren and saw a squad car arrive. He saw Stucker standing near a prone Brown. Then the second officer arrived wearing a dark colored baseball cap and ran towards Brown. Both officers moved on Brown and wrestled with him, with Brown squirming, kicking and moving his arms. The officers managed to get one handcuff on his wrist.

After the struggle, both officers moved back and away from Brown, who sat on the ground waving his arms at both of them and yelling. Ellefson discharged his taser and Gonzalez could hear the discharged electricity and saw that it did not affect Brown at all. Further attempts to tase Brown did not work, and both officers then knocked Brown down. Stucker stepped back and pulled out his retractable baton. Brown was sitting and Stucker struck him several times on the legs.

Ellefson then stepped to the right and in front of Brown, drawing his gun. Gonzalez saw a handcuff dangling from Brown's right wrist but nothing in his hands.

“And as he was down on the ground, that cop pulled out his gun and shot him twice from about this close.”

Brown fell on his left side, his face hitting the ground.

“He shot him twice and that was the end of that. And it shocked the big cop. He was kind of like, ‘whoa, what was the hell was that,”

Kenneth Williams had been talking to Brown before he flagged down Stucker and told him that he believed Brown to be on “water”. Williams had seen Brown jumping on vehicles and acting in a “crazy and strange way”. Stucker approached Brown who was lying in a fetal position, with a taser in his hands. He ordered Brown to get up and put his hands against the wall six to eight times, before Brown stood up and took a step towards him. Stucker then discharged his taser.

Brown fell on the ground and was on his stomach as Stucker commanded him to put his hands behind his back. Brown complied, then Ellefson arrived. He knelt down and put on knee on Brown’s back and managed to handcuff one wrist. Brown twisted away then jumped to his feet. Ellefson discharged his taser.

Williams said that Ellefson then hit Brown with his baton before doing a contact tasing on his neck. After that, Ellefson stepped back and fired one shot, hitting Brown in the shoulder. Brown spun around and went down on one knee, but jumped back up and took a step towards Ellefson who then took out his gun and shot him again, in the chest.

While working the day shift in the Canyoncrest neighborhood, Officer Michael Paul Stucker had been monitoring his radio, listening to a flurry of calls about a Black man acting strangely while traveling down several streets including University Avenue. Reports came in that he was screaming, jumping on vehicles, exposing himself and blocking traffic. Stucker was heading down University Avenue when he was flagged down by Kenneth Williams. Stucker told investigators that the man had walked up to him and said, “Yeah, there’s this guy acting really strange. You need to do something.”

Stucker alerted the dispatcher of his arrival at the scene. He did not know much about Brown except what had transpired on his radio.

”I don’t know his name. I was never able to get a name.”

Stucker removed his M26 taser from his car. He did not wear a holster to carry it in, but kept it in the car. Before this day, he had never discharged it in the line of duty, despite being certified to use a M26 taser for several years, according to his training records.

Approaching Brown, Stucker noted that he was on the ground, waving him away. He then retreated to an alcove out of sight. Stucker followed, and saw that Brown was leaning against a wall as if to avoid detection. Stucker ordered Brown to put his hands against the wall. Brown ignored him and kept yelling “mumbo jumbo”. Brown yelled about God, Jesus, and what turned out to be his young daughter Mariah.

Stucker continued to order Brown to put his hands on the wall. At some point, Stucker had also activated his department issued digital audiorecorder, deciding that this situation didn’t look good. He pointed his taser at Brown who yelled back that he didn’t want to get shocked. Stucker continued ordering Brown to put his hands on the wall.

“He took a step towards me and I had to deploy my taser.”

Which Stucker did. One electrode hit Brown and the other landed on the ground. Brown stiffened and fell on the ground. Ellefson arrived at about that point, handcuffs in hand and proceeded to approach Brown. Ellefson told Stucker to turn off his taser so he could safely handcuff Brown. Brown began to resist and although Stucker said he heard the first handcuff “click”, Brown then twisted away and sat up, facing both officers.

Stucker heard Ellefson deploy his taser but was uncertain whether it was a contact tasing or one where the probes were deployed. Stucker then decided to remove his taser’s cartridge to facilitate a contact strike. Brown then grabbed him on the arm and Stucker received an electric shock which entered through one arm and exited down the opposite leg. Stucker quickly left Brown, turning his back on him while he tried to figure out where the shock came from. There, in the knuckle of his left little finger, was a taser probe embedded in his skin.

Stucker then turned back around and saw Brown sitting on the ground, either squatting or sitting on his butt with his legs extended in front of him. He held Ellefson’s taser in his hands. He put his own taser in the small of his back and reached for his baton. Stucker said he didn't know if the cartridge was still attached or not, but he could see a light.

“And as I pulled out my extendable baton, extended it and I hit the suspect on the lower part of the leg, below the knee twice. And as I’m preparing to do it again, I hear two gunshots and Terry is standing immediately to my right.”

At the beginning of his interview with investigators, Stucker also said the following.

“So he was standing up and the two shots went. He fell forward and continued to move around.”

Towards the end of the interview, Stucker said this.

“Yes, he remained on the ground, fell forward and with his back to---to where Terry and I were standing.”

Stucker was asked by the department’s investigators why he had not shot Brown.

“I didn’t shoot because I had a baton in my hand and because I had a baton in my hand.”

Stucker had said that he saw the taser in Brown's hand and then pulled out his baton. However, at the briefing the department gave to the CPRC in April, its representative had said that Stucker had drawn his baton first.

After the shooting, Stucker said that he had believed the taser was in Brown’s hands but because the hands were tucked underneath him, Stucker was unable to see it.

Ellefson arrived at the Welcome Inn Motel of America after being dispatched, and activated his audio recorder. He saw Brown lying on the ground and Stucker aiming a taser at him. Ellefson heard the taser cycle and that wire leads were attached to Brown’s body. He approached Brown from the rear with his handcuffs in his right hand. Lying on his stomach, Brown appeared to comply. Ellefson told Stucker to turn off the taser. Ellefson then put his body weight on Brown’s back and placed the handcuff on his left arm.

Brown then began to struggle, causing Ellefson to lose his grip. Ellefson then stumbled backward, trying to maintain his footing. Brown then turned back and faced both officers. After taking a step back, Ellefson them drew his taser and deployed it, from about six feet away. The taser cycle had no effect on Brown, which led to Ellefson activating it again and still, Brown had no reaction.

Ellefson removed the cartridge from his X26 taser and moved towards Brown to attempt a contact strike, which he applied to his upper shoulder. Brown still showed no reaction to the taser. Ellefson struggled with Brown and they began to go to the ground. Ellefson applied the third contact strike to Brown, after Stucker warned him to watch out for Brown’s loose handcuff flailing about. Then Ellefson realized he no longer had his taser in his hand.

“I had a firm grip on my taser and the next thing I knew, I did not have my taser in my hand anymore.”

Brown was in a crouched position, but Ellefson couldn’t see Brown’s feet and he couldn’t see his taser either. He then saw Brown reach down between his feet and pick up his taser. Ellefson moved away from Brown, but couldn’t see where the taser was aimed.

“I was focused on the taser so I didn’t see where it was pointing.”

As he moved away, he said that Brown moved as well.

“The suspect stood—kind of pushed forward and lunged toward me with the taser.”

Ellefson then pulled out his gun and shot Brown twice in his center mass, from the hip. Brown was about two feet away from him at the time. It was Ellefson's second fatal officer-involved shooting in five months.

Both Stucker and Ellefson had activated their digital audio recorders. Stucker’s recording was transcribed by the department and submitted with the rest of the investigative case records. Oddly enough, the department never transcribed Ellefson’s recording and only decided to do so after the CPRC requested a copy of it.

Stucker’s recording consists of him largely giving commands at Brown including to put his hands on the wall, to lie still or to put his hands behind his back. He also warned Ellefson approximately 15 seconds before the shooting to watch out for Brown’s loose handcuff which he was swinging as a weapon. Ten seconds before the shooting, he and Ellefson are still issuing commands at Brown to put his hands behind his back. Then the shots are fired. Afterwards, the two officers are still ordering Brown to stay down and put his hands behind his back.

About one minute after the shooting, Stucker mentions the taser for the first time, saying that is in Brown’s hand. In his interview, Stucker had said that he never saw the taser after the shooting but that he believed that it was in Brown’s hand, which were tucked beneath his body out of sight. Det. Mike Medici asked Stucker if the last time he saw Brown, was the taser in his hands.

“I couldn’t see it but I thought the taser was in his hands.”

Stucker said in his interview that he warned both Ellefson and the paramedics that Brown still had the taser in his hands.

“We—we even once the medics got there, we were warning them as they were coming up, ‘hey, this guy has been very combative and he still has a taser in his hands.”

Ellefson was not certain where the taser was after he had shot Brown, but his best memory was that it was in Brown’s hand by his right side.

“At one point, I remember Officer Stucker came and kicked the taser away from him.”

Ellefson's X26 taser was photographed lying on the ground in front of Motel room #9. It was missing its cartridge.

A partial transcript of Ellefson’s recording by the CPRC includes statements made by Ellefson before the shooting. Ten seconds before he fired his gun, he had grabbed hold of Brown’s loose handcuff. When asked by investigators if he was giving commands before the shooting, Ellefson told them that he had been ordering Brown to get on the ground.

Four and a half minutes after the shooting, an unknown person asks Ellefson where his taser is and Ellefson responds, “Right there.” Ninety seconds later, he tells someone that Brown picked up the taser. Nearly eight minutes after the shooting, he tells an unknown person that Brown came up with the taser and he shot downward. Three minutes later he repeats himself.

“Two shots, trajectory downward.”

Two sergeants who were onscene after the shooting told investigators that Ellefson had provided some details about the shooting.

Sgt. Russell Shubert said that Ellefson had told him that he had fired two rounds in a southern direction, and the trajectory was downwards.

After the shooting, many of the witnesses were upset and even Stucker noticed that an angry crowd of local residents had gathered, yelling and screaming at the police officers. Reinforcements were called to come to the scene to deal with the crowd.

During interviews, several witnesses expressed similar feelings, and the way the investigators responded reveals a lot about the dynamics of an agency assigned the task of investigating its own who use lethal force.

Det. Mike Medici(to Lynette Wilsey):

"Okay and whether my partner is there or not at the time. Sometimes you don't realize who's standing by you or not when things--when shit hits the fan if you will, okay? So I tase you and it doesn't affect you. And I bring my stick out and I stick you. And in this case, maybe it affects him, maybe it doesn't. We don't know that yet. But let's say it doesn't. Okay? I'm out of--now what?

"...Okay, I'm not saying that is what happened. But what happens and you give me a situation where that gentleman takes my stick from me? What happens when I got a guy that's six times my strength now?"

Det. Rowe to witness Rachay Lear:

"He just--why--why--why would the officer just pull out his gun and shoot the guy if he's just sitting on his butt doing nothing."


"Because to me, I feel like he just got frustrated with shocking him or something. Like, this isn't working, something is going to have to work."


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