Police

BCI ends Schenck investigation

On Tuesday, Nov. 12, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine came to the Bryan Center to present the findings of his office’s investigation of the shooting incident on July 31 that ended in the death of local resident Paul E. Schenck. The presentation neither confirmed nor denied any wrongdoing, but was intended as a dissemination of the facts as they occurred the night of July 30 and 31.

While normally Bureau of Criminal Investigation findings are submitted directly to the prosecutor, who would present the case before a grand jury, in this instance because the Yellow Springs community had so many questions about the incident, DeWine chose to report on the findings in person before submitting to the court. But according to a statement he made later in the presentation, the responding law enforcement agencies could not have prevented Paul E.’s death.

“There are lessons we can take from this, but there is absolutely no evidence that the outcome would have been different,” he said, referring to any procedural or decision making changes law enforcement could have made on the scene.

“The Schenck family has lost a beloved son, brother, father … to the family I extend my deepest sympathy.”

DeWine’s presentation included a summary of the events, including a description of the way a Greene County SWAT team officer shot Paul E. while he was shooting a gun out of a window of his home. The statement also included facts as given by interviews with 80 law enforcement officers and neighbors, about the negotiations process and the fact that when officers found Paul E. in his home, he was wearing earplugs and a Kevlar bullet-proof vest. DeWine spoke about issues related to law enforcement communication, the weapons Paul E. had, and the mental health issues he was dealing with at the time. Some of the information had been released previously, while the report provided smaller details such as timing of events and identity of the officers involved.

At the end of the one-and-a-half-hour conference, Uta Schenck, Paul E.’s mother, still had questions about the negotiating process and why she was not allowed to speak to her son, who had asked for her during the standoff.

“As a family,” she said, this “question troubles us terribly — I’m aggrieved … and I would have appreciated a chance to talk to him, our son,” Uta said.

Major Kirk Keller of the Greene County Sheriff’s office answered that it was not typical protocol to involve family members in negotiations, and that it was dangerous to bring anyone near the scene.

Assistant Prosecutor Suzanne Schmidt attended the presentation and confirmed that the full BCI report would be sent to a Greene County Grand Jury this month to determine whether any crimes had been committed.

The findings

At 10:48 p.m. on Tuesday, July 30, Greene County Central Dispatch received a 911 call from 280 North High St. where a distressed male (presumably Paul E.) said that his son tried to assault him. Yellow Springs Police senior officer Pat Roegner and newer officers Josh Knapp and Luciana Lieff responded to the assault, arriving first at 310 North High, the home of Uta and Paul D. Schenck who live on the front half of the same property as their son.

There the officers found Paul E.’s son Max Schenck, and Uta and Paul D., who said that Max’s shoulder had been injured after a fight with Paul E. While Roegner and Lieff interviewed the parents, Knapp went to the door of Paul E., who resided in a small apartment behind his parents’ home. According to Knapp, who could see through the door, Paul E. appeared “distraught,” his face bloody and his right hand appearing injured. The officer asked Paul E. to open the door and he refused, saying things such as “I don’t want to be hurt,” “I don’t want to get in trouble,” “I don’t want my son to get in trouble,” and “F–ck you, I will kill myself.”

Meanwhile during their interview with the family, Roegner and Lieff learned that Paul E. had been diagnosed as bipolar at the age of 16 and was currently taking Prozac. Paul E. had also been distressed because earlier in the day a car had hit and killed his favorite cat. And he had been drinking. While he and Max were watching television that evening, Paul E. took a gun and put it to his head. When Max told him to stop, they got into a physical fight, and Max ran to his grandparents’ home across the yard.

As Knapp continued to try to gain entry into Paul E.’s home, Roegner came over to help him. Sometime between 10:50 and 10:55 p.m., the officers said they heard two to five shots go off from inside Paul E.’s house. Because neither officer saw muzzle flash or the trajectory of the bullets, they ran for cover behind their cruisers. Officer Roegner said he felt his life was threatened, and believed by the changing sounds of the gunfire, that Paul E. may have switched from a handgun to a rifle. He also thought he heard Paul E. say, “I’m going to kill you.” Roegner then radioed a signal 99 call for assistance from nearby districts, saying “shots fired.”

While Miami Township Fire-Rescue and the local officers attempted to position themselves, the family and the public in a safe place away from the house, Paul E. continued with another barrage of 10–15 shots at both Knapp’s and Roegner’s cruisers, saying “don’t shoot my cat, mother f–kers.”

When Greene County Sheriff deputy Major Eric Spicer arrived with the SWAT units, he assumed command of the team, as well as the Dayton and Fairborn armored vehicles, and the Ohio State Patrol’s aviation unit, brought in to light the crime scene from above.

When the overhead light came on, officers said that Paul E. immediately shot at police vehicles that were gathering in front of his house. Roegner and Spicer both reported that they continued to hear bullets fly near their heads, at which point Spicer decided to fire one round in return at Paul E., whose fire then stopped temporarily.

Meanwhile, a command post led by special operations commander Major Kirk Keller of the Greene County Sheriff’s department was setting up at Union and High streets, while Greene County Sheriff Gene Fisher oversaw the entire scene. At that time, Roegner turned his YSPD command over to Knapp and suited up as a SWAT team member, providing information to the team about Paul E.’s criminal and mental health history, his medications and the cache of weapons and ammunition he was believed to possess as a “survivalist.”

While several SWAT teams positioned themselves around 280 North High, Major Spicer believed that Paul E. had positioned himself in a house three doors down from there. When Spicer’s team tried to enter that house, the homeowner called 911 to report an intruder, causing responders to think that Paul E. was mobile and could be shooting randomly in the neighborhood.

Between 11 p.m. and midnight, a team of four negotiators from Greene County, including spokesperson Sergeant Walters and Detective Meadows gathered intelligence about Paul E.’s background and asked his father to draw diagrams of both homes, as well as provide phone numbers for both homes. Then at 12:15 a.m. Deputy Dempsey attempted to call Paul E. by phone at both homes. She called a total of 56 times, leaving messages at 310 North High and hearing no answer at 280 North High. Between 12:45 and 1 a.m., Sergeant Walters moved an armored vehicle called the “Peacekeeper” about 40 yards from Paul E.’s house and used the PA system to give him a number to call. Hearing nothing, Walters told Paul E. to “wave a flag” or “throw a pillow” out the door to indicate he had heard them.

“You need to talk to us,” Walters told him. “Come out…I can help you.”

Officers said they heard Paul E. say in a loud, angry voice, “I don’t have a phone,” “F-ck off,” “You want to kill me” and “I’m going to f-cking kill you guys.” According to the negotiators, they began taking fire again, directly at the Peacekeeper this time, which scared Detective Meadows for his life. Due to the active shooting, police said they could not give Paul E. a phone.

The next attempt to make contact with Paul E. was through Dayton’s armored vehicle, the Bear. But when the helicopter aimed the spotlight on Paul E.’s house, he began shooting again, hitting the Bear twice.

Police say they contemplated how to get Paul E. to cease his fire. They considered using gas, but figured he had a gas mask and feared that a spark from the gunfire could possibly cause a fire or explosion. They also considered driving over the home. They knew their time was limited because once the sun came up, many of the officers under cover of only darkness and tall grass would be exposed.

As Paul E. continued to shoot at the Bear, Sheriff Deputy Hughes saw Paul E.’s silhouette firing what he believed was an AR 15 out of one of the windows toward him and so near to him that he could feel debris from the gun. Fearing for his life, Hughes aimed his rifle and fired three shots (investigators found that Hughes actually fired five shots.) He radioed to command that he believed he saw the silhouette fall.

After moving both armored vehicles adjacent to the house, police waited for a search warrant and then rammed the wall open in order to deploy a robot to determine that Paul E. was not moving. Police found that he was wearing a military style Kevlar vest and earplugs.

Communications

According to DeWine, a signal 99 is an indiscriminate call for assistance from nearby agencies which most law enforcement teams at this time have little control over. In this case, when the call went out with the statement “shots fired,” both YSPD dispatch and Miami Township Fire-Rescue squad heard it and called Greene County and Central dispatches, who radioed Clark County Sheriff and Xenia PD and continued a cascade of calls that brought a total of 80 law enforcement officers from 17 agencies to the scene that night.

“The reality is when people hear ‘shots fired,’ law enforcement respond,” DeWine said. However, the challenge once they were all assembled was “the difficulty the officers had communicating with each other.”

Though some of the agencies tried to coordinate their communication systems, most of the officers were using radio systems that would not work between agencies, DeWine said, including Yellow Springs. Many of the officers were forced to use their cell phones to communicate. And due to the rapidly escalating and changing scene, there was no time to establish an integrated communication system.

DeWine used the moment to push the MARCS radio system that many agencies statewide are adopting, including police departments and the sheriff in Greene County, who planned to adopt it before the shooting.

Negotiations and ballistics

According to DeWine, many of the responding police officers felt they never had a real opportunity to negotiate with Paul E. because once he began shooting he never stopped long enough to talk. And investigators using ballistic forensics found that Paul E.’s phone had been shot from inside the house, “disabling an important means of communication,” DeWine said.

Police also said they never felt it was safe to bring the family members close enough to talk to Paul E., as he was firing an almost 360 range around his home (sparing the area around his parents’ home) and hit four North High Street homes (including 301, 302, 305 and 236 North High, one of which is a block from Paul E.’s house), a fence and two police cruisers in the area. And based on Paul E.’s height, the types of weapons he was using, the barometric pressure that night and other circumstances, some of the bullets had the potential to travel a one mile radius around Paul E.’s home and still be lethal, DeWine said.

In the end, police found that Paul E. shot a total of 191 rounds from his home. They also found that he owned a blood clot kit and a gas mask with an oxygen canister.

Of the 20 neighbors the BCI spoke to, many heard Detective Meadows ask Paul E. to come out of his house. Among the other things they heard Paul E. say were, “I don’t have a phone,” “I have a grenade,” “You will kill me,” “You aren’t coming in here,” “Don’t shoot my cat,” “I love you, I’ve always loved you … Mom … I’m sorry,” “You assholes, you don’t understand,” “You shot the phone.”

Weapons and mental health

Paul E. had a history of carrying weapons, according to a court file that was unsealed to aid in the BCI’s investigation. Paul E. was arrested in 2009 for carrying a firearm while intoxicated and being belligerent. Soon after, Uta Schenck went to police concerned about the store of weapons he was holding, and a Greene County judge allowed police to confiscate from his home a bulletproof vest, five handguns, two shotguns, 10 rifles and 25 boxes of ammunition. Paul E. served time in Greene County Jail for disorderly conduct and obstructing official business and was ordered to engage in a substance abuse rehabilitation program not to exceed three years.

About a year and a half later in October 2010 a Greene County judge found that Paul E. had successfully completed intervention in lieu of conviction. The charges were dismissed and the guns were returned to Paul E.’s father.

DeWine spoke at length about the high number of Americans, 7.3 million, who suffer from mental health disorders, including half a million with major illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disease, some of whom will come into negative contact with law enforcement. His office has helped to allocate state money to train local law enforcement to better respond to mental health patients. DeWine also advocated for more support for mandated treatment for the mentally ill, without which judges have few options beyond keeping the mentally ill in jail or committing them to a mental health hospital.

Investigation process, questions

Some questions from reporters included whether the initial responding officers had escalated the event by attempting to force their way in to Paul E.’s house. DeWine responded by saying it was unfair to judge the actions of responders with the benefit of hindsight.

“It’s easy to sit back, know the outcome and find where officers made mistakes,” he said.

Another question addressed whether DeWine himself would do anything to make it more difficult for people with a mental illness to obtain weapons. He responded by saying that the public needed to get involved and voice their opinions on the issue.

The investigation itself, led by BCI lead investigator Karen Rebori, put a total of 16 personnel on the case and gave a total of 10,000 hours to complete the report. Personnel included crime scene special agents, special agent investigators, criminal intelligence analysts and firearms and forensic lab experts. Agents studied about 1,500 crime scene photographs and measured distances and angles to create scaled diagrams of the scene. They also interviewed 50 law enforcement personnel and 30 civilians as part of the investigation.

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