MPD releases Roettgen evidence (Updated at 4:15 p.m. Aug. 11)
Amid allegations of inaccurate police statements from the attempted arrest of Carl Clayton Roettgen on the evening of May 13, 2015, representatives of the Marshall Police Department released and reviewed the evidence in the case with media representatives Wednesday, Aug. 10.
Officers Tyler Newell and Joshua O'Bryan responded to the parking lot of the Marshall Walmart during the 8 p.m. hour of that evening, where they attempted to serve an active arrest warrant for Roettgen stemming from a violation of his parole. Video surveillance footage from the incident shows the officers pull in behind the parked vehicle containing Roettgen and a passenger, C. Workcuff. As the officers approach the vehicle, driven by Roettgen despite his having a revoked drivers' license, Roettgen fails to comply with their lawful arrest attempt, to which he pleaded guilty of resisting arrest or detention by fleeing and accepted a four-year sentence to be served with the Missouri Department of Corrections Monday, Aug. 8. Instead of complying, Roettgen attempted to drive away, putting at risk the safety of the officers, as well as Workcuff, who exited the vehicle as Roettgen rapidly attempted to put the vehicle in gear to flee from the officers.
According to the MPD's incident report, after Workcuff exited the vehicle, Officer Newell states he entered the vehicle through the open passenger side door where he states he attempted to reach for the gear shaft to stop the vehicle and saw a black handgun barrel being pointed at his face by Roettgen approximately one inch away. In the report, Newell states he heard a loud click, which he believed to come from the handgun, though Newell stated the weapon, which he classified as a semi-automatic, did not successfully fire. At that point, Newell states he exited the vehicle, pulled his sidearm and fired one round at Roettgen. In Officer Newell's statement, taken verbally within the same hour as the incident and written by Assistant Police Chief Todd Reeter, Reeter asked Newell if he were firing at Roettgen or at the vehicle, to which Newell responded he had fired at Roettgen. The officer's expended round was later found in the trunk of the car.
At the time of the shot, no other persons were in the car and video from a second video angle shows no other persons in the line of fire and a wooden fence in the backdrop, though parked cars would be in the path in the event of an errant bullet to the left and two pedestrians can be seen from yet another angle, which Roettgen's attorney, John James, of Saint Peters, said he believed could easily have been stricken by a ricocheted bullet.
Officer O'Bryan's account of the incident backed up Newell's claim of the presence of a handgun, which O'Bryan also stated Roettgen had pointed at Newell's face.
Video evidence shows that Newell never entered the cab of the vehicle. That inconsistency between the report and the evidence, as well as conversations he reported having with MPD command personnel, were cited by Saline County Prosecuting Attorney Donald Stouffer in a statement Monday, Aug. 8, as reason to drop all other charges pending against Roettgen from the incident except for resisting arrest. Stouffer went on in the statement to claim that the accounts of the officers were not credible and that he would investigate other cases to determine if the two officers had been a key witness. He indicated that he would request assistance from outside agencies as necessary. He further stated he will not file charges in any future case in which either of the officers plays a significant role.
As a result of Stouffer's statement, the MPD placed Officers Newell and O'Bryan on paid administrative leave Tuesday morning, Aug. 9, pending a review of the case by an outside agency at MPD's request. Sgt. Roger Gibson, the department's Public Information Officer, stated an agreement with an outside agency to investigate the case had not yet been reached as of Wednesday afternoon.
"I don't know who he's got meetings with," Gibson said of MPD Chief Mike Donnell. "I know he's got meetings with somebody and they're discussing all those things to come in and do this because he wants to know. Now that Mr. Stouffer's brought it up, he wants to know 'Hey, if we did something wrong, let us know how to fix it.'"
Gibson said the recent events involving the case had effected the morale of the department, but officers were conducting themselves in a professional manner.
"When things happen like this, it effects everybody," he said. "Does it effect us? Yeah. Does our morale go down a little bit because of it? Yeah. Especially when you're trying to build it back up. I mean, with the Shop with a Cop, and Bowl with a Cop, and Ice Cream with a Cop, and all these other things that we do for community-oriented policing that we're trying to bridge that gap and then you get something like this and it's just like, it's just gone. So, now we've got to come back around and start building back up, and I think that's why Chief now wants to get that outside agency in here and say, 'Hey, you know, we owe it to the public, and if we're messing up, tell us we've got to do to fix it,' and if we're not, let's clear the air and say, 'Hey, we're doing our job.'"
While the video does show that Newell did not enter the cab of the vehicle, he can be seen to have accessed the doorway of the vehicle, standing between the open door and the vehicle's cab with one hand placed on the door and the other hand placed on the vehicle's frame until the passenger exits. At that point, the door almost completely closes and Newell has a less straightforward angle. During the escape attempt, O'Bryan smashed in the driver's side window of the vehicle with his nightstick and attempted to pull open the door, tearing off the exterior door handle in the process. In his statement, O'Bryan stated he reached in the vehicle at one point, attempting to grab Roettgen's wrist, losing his watch in the scuffle. A report from Sgt. Detective William McMellen of an interview conducted with Workcuff the day after the incident shows Workcuff believed there was no handgun in the car. At the time of the incident when officers stated a gun came into play, video shows Workcuff was exiting the vehicle and rushing the other direction to prostrate himself behind the officers' squad car.
After Roettgen had successfully fled the vicinity on U.S. Highway 65, his car was found abandoned two days later in Van Meter State Park. While no gun was recovered from the car, MPD Detective Jon Burge searched the vehicle and reported finding one round of .22 calibre ammunition in a small compartment, just to the passenger side of the gear shift, which was located between the front driver and passenger seats. O'Bryan's watch was also reported as recovered from the vehicle. Investigative photos released by the MPD do not show the items being recovered. Photos instead show a broad view of the vehicle's interior from the outside.
A report from McMellen shows video surveillance footage of the incident was being reviewed by the department as early as the day after the incident. Documents show the evidence in the case was submitted by the police department to the prosecutor's office in three installments between May 14 and May 26, 2015. Stouffer said Thursday that any allegations of the department attempting to conceal the video evidence were not accurate.
James points to a Missouri State Highway Patrol report that states Donnell refused an offer from the MSHP to investigate the case and what he called a lack of transparency in the reports. MPD representatives said there was no recollection of an offer from the MSHP being refused.
"You have an independent agency, who's saying 'Hey, we'll take over and do an independent investigation of your officers firing a weapon, which is a very common practice in most jurisdictions," James said. "And you have the Chief of Police over here telling them 'I don't want you to do that. We'll investigate it ourselves.' That's according to the highway patrol. ...It's plainly in the reports, according to the Highway Patrol. What's concerning to me -- common sense tells me a bunch of police officers arrive on the scene at Walmart, where a suspect has just driven away and supposedly tried to run over two officer, and then supposedly tried to pull a gun and blow an officer's head off -- they're going to ask to see the security footage. There's no record of them asking. There's no mention of the security footage until the next day. I find it very interesting that there is no record of that and then the chief says 'We don't want the highway patrol involved in this.' And quite frankly, it makes it look to me, or at least suspect that the Chief went and saw the video and then said 'I want to keep this in-house to protect my officers.' That's not proof behind a reasonable doubt, but that's certainly something that could happen. And those are the type of questions we're left with because of a lack of transparency."
James also pointed out photos from the crime scene in the Walmart parking lot, taken the night of the incident, show certain evidentiary items up close and then some broad photos that do not indicate where the pieces of evidence are located.
"They took about 20 photos in the dark, where most of what you can see is a shopping cart turned upside down and some tape," James said. "That is not very helpful to anybody. ...Because of the way they shot the scene, you don't get any perspective of where those things happened."
Gibson said surveillance was not sufficient enough to identify license plates of other vehicles traveling through the area around the time of the incident. He said there was no public release from the department asking for witnesses to the attempted arrest to come forward.
"I think they were just focused on this, gathering their information, walking it through, you know and see where it went from there," Gibson said.
Stouffer stated in court Monday, as well as in his statement, he had not been able to substantially review the video evidence from the case until preparing for trial in Roettgen's case in July 2016. He said after spending many hours reviewing the video during pretrial preparations and attempting to reconcile the evidence from the video with the statements concluded no reasonable jury could view the video and find the officers' accounts to be credible.
Thursday, Stouffer said it is common in cases for evidence to come into his office in pieces within a span of sometimes days, sometimes weeks, as consideration is given to filing charges, and during that same time different evidence is flowing into his office from perhaps as many as 30 other cases. He estimated his office examines 2,700 cases per year, with somewhere around 1,800 to 2,000 being traffic related cases. He said a comparison of all the evidence together in a case would typically not occur until it appears a case is going to go to trial.
"I don't try to pick apart every officer's statement when it comes into our office," Stouffer said. "We'd have to hire two to three more lawyers to do that. Financially, that's just not feasible."
Gibson and McMellen estimated it was the only time an MPD officer had discharged their weapon at a suspect in more than a decade and said neither could recall such an incident at any other point in their tenures with the department. Stouffer said the nature of the case, involving an officer discharging a weapon, did not factor into the priority of the case among his workload. He stated his office is currently dealing with pending murder cases that would be handled in the same manner by he and his staff.
Stouffer said from his examination of the evidence, Roettgen was involved with shifting gears of the vehicle, steering the vehicle, and also dealing with an officer trying to grab him through the driver's side window. He expressed disbelief that Roettgen would be able to accomplish all of that while also pulling a gun and attempting to fire it.
"It's the best gotcha kind of evidence," Stouffer said of how the defense would use the video in a trial. "... If I had put that in front of a jury, I'd be facing disbarment."
The prosecutor said the unfired ammunition found in the center compartment was not sufficient corroboration of the presence of a gun.
"One unfired cartridge does not make 'a gun one inch away from my head and click,'" Stouffer said.
Stouffer said he had shown the video and officer statements to other parties with no connection to the city of Marshall, his office, or the case and they had all reached the same conclusion that he had.
Contact Arron Hustead at email@example.com