LAKE HAVASU CITY – An officer-involved shooting incident has occurred. Now there must be two investigations.
Once Michael Judge was shot on Oct. 25, 2004, the Lake Havasu City Police Department was faced with two investigations, a criminal investigation to determine if the use of deadly force was proper, and an administrative one to determine if departmental procedure was followed correctly.
The private investigators from Phoenix found problems with both investigations.
“In clearing themselves so thoroughly and refusing to critique their own actions, the police department didn’t even take the opportunity to possibly prevent future killings by reviewing how it handles the mentally challenged,” said Richard Robertson, the private investigator hired to look into the shooting, in his final report.
LHCPD Chief John Alexander questioned the conclusions of the report, noting that the Kingman Police Department conducted a thorough investigation and that none of the facts of the shooting were being questioned. “It’s second guessing on their part,” said Alexander. The Phoenix investigators did not interview Lake Havasu City or Kingman police.
Assistant Chief Randy McCaleb said the theory that more training and/or more time would have changed the situation was interesting, but the officers on the scene, Jacob Bekkedahl, Earl Chalfant and John Stanley, were reacting to a situation that had been presented to them.
“We have mental health resources available to officers,” said McCaleb. “But in this circumstance, he had a gun that he was pointing at the officers. The gun changes everything.”
At the scene of the incident, medical personnel attempted to save Judge’s life but were unsuccessful. Then a dispute with paramedics over the gurney Judge’s body was resting on resulted in the body being moved, McCaleb said.
Since part of the investigation revolved around the where, how and if Judge was pointing his gun at officers, significant changes to the crime scene could have affected the results, according to the detectives.
“There was an issue with the paramedics wanting their gurney back,” said Capt. Rich Sloma. “But I told them that it was introduced to the scene so it stays in the scene.”
Once the shooting happened, investigator Don Keenom said the officers involved should’ve done a “walk through” with the detectives investigating the incident at the crime scene to better answer questions, but that wasn’t done.
McCaleb said the officers were removed to the police station where formal interviews were conducted, per procedure. After questioning the officers and the witnesses to the event, in addition to crime scene photos, McCaleb said the decision was made that a walk through no longer was necessary.
Joe Collier, a criminalist hired by Robertson, reports in the investigator’s conclusions that at the time of the shooting, Judge was standing upright and pointing his gun in an “undetermined downward angle.”
Despite the problems, Keenom said the department did do a lot of things right.
“They tried their best to contain the scene, they got the officers out of the scene and did separate interviews, they took photos of the officers in their duty gear, documented the weapons and put them on administrative leave,” said Keenom. “That was good.”
“We insisted they take time off and go through counseling,” said Sloma.
The investigators also found that the LHCPD didn’t convene a Shooting Review Board after the incident.
“They should’ve had a Shooting Review Board with a citizen on it,” said Investigator Anthony Britnell. “It just instills public confidence.”
Alexander said a Shooting Review Board wasn’t convened because it wasn’t needed due to the contact he and the rest of the LHCPD command staff had with the investigation.
McCaleb agreed with this, noting that LHCPD may be getting compared with far larger departments in and around Phoenix where multiple layers of command require more reviews to keep everybody up to speed on different investigations.
The detectives questioned LHCPD’s approach to the situation, noting Sgt. Bill Masche’s statement that it wasn’t illegal to carry a gun in a holster.
McCaleb said it all depends on circumstances, noting that the police do contact people carrying guns if they get a phone call.
“We don’t necessarily do it with lights and sirens, but we’ll be cautious,” said McCaleb. “We don’t ‘draw down’ on anyone with a gun, but if a guy is believed to be suicidal, that changes things.”