OLATHE, Kan. – Body camera footage shows that law enforcement ignored the advice of SWAT team members when they entered a suburban Kansas City home and fatally shot a mentally distressed woman with a history of only minor, nonviolent offenses.
The Kansas City Star reports that it reviewed 23 hours of footage tied to the Aug. 23 shooting of 26-year-old Ciara Howard after a three-hour standoff in Olathe. The Star had sued for the video and dropped its lawsuit last month after receiving it.
The footage shows officers had been briefed that Howard was acting irrationally and had access to her boyfriend's handgun when they arrived. They were there to arrest her on a warrant for walking away from the county's adult residential center where she'd been required to report after her latest conviction.
"It's not worth getting into a shootout and hurting an officer or hurting her over the type of warrants that we have," a commander on the scene was heard on camera, relaying the word from Olathe and Johnson County that neither of their SWAT teams wanted to come to the scene and go into the house.
Howard, whose legal problems began with intoxicated conflicts and escalated when she failed to meet court requirements, was bipolar, relatives said. Her autopsy showed she had amphetamine and methamphetamine in her system.
Olathe police described Howard's death as a "tragedy for everyone involved" in a written statement. The shooting was deemed justified, but the finding addressed only the threat the officers faced once they were in the house, Johnson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris McMullin said at the time. It did not address the tactics and decisions officers made to enter the house.
Johnson County Sheriff Calvin Hayden said his deputies were at the scene to back up Olathe police. He said he agreed with the county SWAT team commander's decision not to send its SWAT team. He said he did not know why Olathe commanders ultimately decided to go into the house.
Before police forced open the door of a laundry room where Howard was sequestered, she could be heard repeatedly shouting, "You're not real police!" Footage shows her pointing at them with her right hand while she held the gun in her left. The three lawmen who had wedged in through the door opened fire after she refused their demands to put down the weapon.
"I still don't understand," said Mark Arnold, the husband of Howard's mother. "Why did they go in?"
None of the footage obtained by The Star captured any conversations that show why commanders on the scene decided to go into the house rather than wait her out, and Olathe police did not respond to questions from The Star.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com