Deadly shooting of Dante Kittrell deemed police justifiable

Published: Aug. 24, 2022 at 2:19 PM EDT
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. (WNDU) - The St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office has determined that the shooting death of Dante Kittrell, 51, of South Bend, was a justifiable homicide.

A joint investigation by the St. Joseph County Police Department and Mishawaka Police Department into Kittrell’s death was completed and turned over to the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office, who determined his death was justifiable on Wednesday after reviewing the investigation. Therefore, they’re declining to press charges against the officers involved.

Kittrell died after a confrontation with South Bend Police officers back on July 29 near Coquillard Elementary School. Police opened fire on Kittrell after attempting to deescalate the situation for nearly an hour as Kittrell threatened to take his own life while armed with what appeared to be a handgun, but was instead determined to be a highly-detailed replica of a tan Glock 9 mm.

One significant wound came from a bullet that grazed his head, another entered his torso, while another landed in his hip area.

The shooting came some 45 minutes after police were called to the scene. Officers, and even a pastor tried to calm Kittrell who responded with statements including “I’m ready to die,” “end this,” “fire it,” and “if I point my weapon at you, you have to do your job, right?”

Under Indiana law, deadly force is justified when a person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury. In this case, it was decided that police had no way of knowing Kittrell’s gun was not real.

Extensive body and dash camera videos of the incident were made public on Wednesday. Police say the videos offer the clearest audio and picture of officers’ interactions with Kittrell. **WARNING: The videos contain profanity and could be disturbing for some viewers**

City leaders said during a press conference on Wednesday that officers tried to make sure everyone got home safely that day and used deadly force as a last resort.

“He knew how to counter it,” says South Bend Mayor James Mueller. “He knew what to say. He knew what to do, and he was unfortunately determined to end his life that way. It is a tragedy, but the important thing is there are some false narratives that have perpetuated over the past few weeks, and I encourage everyone not to just look at our presentation, but review the footage in full to get an understanding, and this is an example of when the vantage point really matters.

“I know there was a Facebook video from far away that may have showed one thing, but when you look at the body cameras of the officers, you see a very different situation,” Mueller added.

South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski also spoke out about the shooting during Wednesday’s press conference.

“Why wasn’t a mental health crisis team called? They would not respond to an armed person in that state. Plain and simple,” Ruszkowski says. “So, by the time you get to this situation, it’s too late. We’ve got to deal with mental health before we get to situations such as these.

“For people to point fingers when these officers who care about everybody, themselves secondary, infuriates me,” Ruszkowski added. “Obviously, I get emotional about this because these cops put their lives on the line and their hearts and souls into everything they do. And to receive the treatment they receive is wrong.”

The attorney for Kittrell’s family, Sean Drew, also spoke out after the police shooting of Dante was deemed justifiable.

“Less officers in a mental health crisis can be better than overwhelming the individual,” Drew says. “Very distributing. I mean, clearly anyone with any training would know this was a mental crisis and not a homicidal event. Suicidal of course, not homicidal.”

The Mishawaka and St. Joseph County police investigation included physical evidence, photographs of the scene, interviews of a number of witnesses, ballistic testing, 911 calls, dispatch radio traffic, and camera footage (including body-worn cameras and in-car cameras) of the incident.

The South Bend Police Department is conducting a second investigation to determine if the officers involved in the shooting followed property police policy on the use of force.

Mueller released a statement earlier this month regarding the police-involved shooting, saying that more needs to be done to strengthen mental health services and that the city will hold a forum to discuss crisis procedures on Sept. 6. The forum was rescheduled from its original date, Aug. 23.

Besides calls for a mental health crisis response team, people have been asking about the citizens review board and the hiring of a new director. Mueller says officials are working on it.

The St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office’s full review of the joint investigation is listed below:

OVERVIEW

A review of that investigation found that the first 911 call (from an employee at Coquillard School) occurred at 11:36 a.m. The caller advised dispatch that an armed individual was at the school, threatening to commit suicide. The caller further stated that people were in 2 danger. Officers arrived at the school at 11:40 a.m. When officers located Mr. Kittrell at 11:44 a.m. and began speaking with him, they did not observe any weapons. Between 11:44 a.m. and 12:29 p.m., officers continued to speak with Mr. Kittrell. At 12:29 p.m., Mr. Kittrell pulled what appeared to be a handgun out of a pocket. At 12:30 p.m., Mr. Kittrell raised what appeared to be a handgun at the officers, who thereafter discharged their weapons, striking Mr. Kittrell.

FACTS

A more detailed review of the timeline is as follows:

  • At 11:36 a.m., a Coquillard Traditional School official called 911 about an upset, armed, suicidal male subject at the school. While the male was subsequently identified as Dante Kittrell, responding officers did not know the identity of Mr. Kittrell until much later.
  • At 11:39 a.m., the 911 caller further described the suicidal man as a black male, approximately 40 years old, tall and thin build, wearing a blue shirt and light pants with a handgun. The caller stated that there were people near the subject who were “in danger” and that there would soon be children coming to the school because of the free lunch program.
  • At 11:40 a.m., the first responding officers arrived at Coquillard School.
  • At 11:40:30 a.m. (approximately thirty seconds later), responding officers were advised that the armed male was by the baseball field. The 911 caller stated that someone was in danger on the premises and that the armed man was violent and intended to injure himself with the gun.
  • At 11:41 a.m., the 911 caller told law enforcement that the armed male stated that he had shot himself before in the stomach and had lifted his shirt to show school employees.
  • At 11:43 a.m., the school employee told dispatch that the armed male had been arguing with a female in a red automobile about 10 minutes earlier. The caller stated that when school employees approached the armed male and the woman, the woman told them that the armed male was upset about something. She then drove away.
  • At 11:44 a.m., the 911 caller told dispatch that the armed male was pointing the gun at the responding police officers. Dispatch advised the employees to go inside the school. At that same time, the responding officers had located the “armed man” on the south side of Coquillard School. However, officers did not observe the man display any weapons at that time. Video evidence depicted an uninvolved citizen walking a dog near Mr. Kittrell.
  • At 11:45 a.m., body camera footage captured Dante Kittrell screaming “They’ll have to kill me. I don’t give a f***, I’m ready to die!” Mr. Kittrell can be heard repeating these phrases multiple times during the incident.
  • At 11:50 a.m., Mr. Kittrell continued to shout that he was ready to die and that “One of you m************ is going to shoot me dead, do I need to prove it?” Officers voiced that there was something in the front right pants pocket of Mr. Kittrell.
  • By 11:51 a.m., staff at Coquillard School began moving to the administrative offices, away from Mr. Kittrell.
  • At 11:51 a.m., officers can be heard telling the armed male that nobody wanted him to get shot. Officers begged Mr. Kittrell to please not put his hands in his pockets. Mr. Kittrell shouted to officers, “Which one of y’all wanna do it?”
  • At 11:52 a.m., when a responding officer told Mr. Kittrell that “We’re just trying to get you some help, man,” Mr. Kittrell replied, “F*** that, you going to have to kill me!”
  • At 11:54 a.m., police negotiators advised responding officers that they were on their way.
  • At 12:02 p.m., Mr. Kittrell informed officers he was going to die at 12:42. Officers repeatedly told Mr. Kittrell that they wanted to help him.
  • At 12:05 p.m., after officers continued to state that they wanted to help him, Mr. Kittrell replied that he didn’t care and that he was going to die.
  • At 12:06 p.m., Mr. Kittrell told officers he would shoot the police dog and then they’d have to shoot him. He repeated this several times during the incident.
  • At 12:10 p.m., Mr. Kittrell told officers, “I’m past suicidal, I am ready to die.” Mr. Kittrell told officers that he did not want to deal with one of the officers because that officer didn’t have a “real firearm” (that officer was equipped with a bean bag gun). Mr. Kittrell repeatedly told officers not to try to get a leg shot on him, because he would still get a shot off. For the first time, Mr. Kittrell identified himself as “Dante.”
  • At 12:13 p.m., Mr. Kittrell expressed disappointment with the officers, stating, “Y’all really not going to kill me, are you?”
  • At 12:15 p.m., Mr. Kittrell pointed out an object in his pocket that had the shape of the grip of a handgun and had the outline of a handgun. He asked an officer, “You see the bottom of it? You know what that is, right?” The officer answered, “A gun.” Mr. Kittrell asked, “What kind?”
  • At 12:16 p.m., a pastor identified himself to Mr. Kittrell and tried to engage Mr. Kittrell in conversation. Mr. Kittrell told the pastor that, “I want one of these m************ to kill me!” Mr. Kittrell then can be heard assessing what kind of firearms each officer had. When police negotiators attempted to engage Mr. Kittrell in conversation, Mr. Kittrell did not respond. Instead, Mr. Kittrell kept addressing other officers about their families, their weapons, and his desire to die.
  • At 12:22 p.m., Mr. Kittrell became more agitated and began yelling to officers, “Y’all ready? Y’all ready? Let’s go now!”
  • At 12:24 p.m., Mr. Kittrell told the officers that he knew that if he fired at the officers, they would all open fire.
  • At 12:25 p.m., Mr. Kittrell became increasingly agitated, yelling at officers, “Fire it! Fire it! Fire it!” and, “End this! End this!” Mr. Kittrell told officers several times that he was going to get a shot off. Officers did not fire, but instead held their positions while the negotiator pleaded with Mr. Kittrell, “Let’s not do this!”
  • At 12:27 p.m., Mr. Kittrell again began asking officers about their families. He then yelled repeatedly, “If I point my gun at you, putting your life in danger, right? You have to do your job, right? If I point my weapon at you, you have to do your job, right?” Mr. Kittrell continued, “That s***’s gonna hurt like hell but I’m still gonna get a shot off.” Then Mr. Kittrell said, “Hey, if I run towards him with my weapon out, y’all firing.”
  • At 12:29 p.m., Mr. Kittrell stated, “These m************ don’t want to kill me! F*** this!” At this point, Mr. Kittrell pulled out that item that appeared to be a handgun from his pocket. Officers can be heard yelling, “Gun’s out! He’s got a gun!” Officers took cover behind their vehicles. Mr. Kittrell then pointed what appeared to be a handgun at the ground. He then pointed it up in the air. Mr. Kittrell then pointed that apparent handgun in the direction of officers to his right while looking to his left. Officers did not discharge their weapons at that time.
  • At 12:30 p.m., the SWAT truck began slowing driving toward Mr. Kittrell. As it moved slowly forward, some SWAT team members followed behind it on foot. At that point, Mr. Kittrell first lowered the apparent handgun. He then quickly pointed the apparent handgun at officers who were accompanying the negotiator. Officers yelled, “Gun’s at us! Gun’s at us!” Several officers then discharged their firearms at 12:30:07 p.m. Video evidence shows that Mr. Kittrell fell to the ground. Immediately after Mr. Kittrell fell, officers radioed for medical assistance, stating, “Shots fired, get the medic! Get the medics up here!” Medics were close by, and at 12:31 p.m., medics began tending to Mr. Kittrell.
  • By 12:33 p.m., Mr. Kittrell was in an ambulance, running with lights and sirens to the hospital. However, medical personnel were unable to revive Mr. Kittrell.

An autopsy was performed at Western Michigan University’s Homer Stryker School of Medicine. According to a report from the autopsy, Mr. Kittrell was shot three times: one significant graze wound to the head, one wound to the torso, and one wound to the hip area. According to the forensic pathologist, Mr. Kittrell died of multiple gunshot wounds.

Because this incident involved officers from the South Bend Police Department, the Mishawaka and St. Joseph County Police Departments conducted the joint investigation.

Investigators recovered the item that appeared to be a handgun. After a closer examination, investigators found that the item was a highly detailed replica of a tan Glock Model 19 9mm Luger handgun.

The officers who fired their weapons told investigators that they fired when they did because, at that moment, they believed that their lives and those of their fellow officers were in danger from Mr. Kittrell pointing what they believed to be a handgun at them.

ANALYSIS

Indiana Law specifies when a homicide may be legally justified. According to I.C. 35-41-3-2(c), “A person is justified in using reasonable force against any other person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person: (1) is justified in using deadly force; and (2) does not have a duty to retreat; if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary.”

In determining whether any crime was committed, this standard must be applied to the officers who shot Mr. Kittrell.

The Prosecutor’s Office found no evidence that the officers knew or could have known that the apparent firearm that Mr. Kittrell pointed at the police was not a real handgun.

Here, under the circumstances of this case, a reasonable person would have believed that the item held by Mr. Kittrell was a firearm able to inflict serious bodily injury or death. Therefore, the Prosecutor’s Office cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the officers were not acting in self-defense or defense of others due to a reasonable fear of imminent death or significant bodily injury.

Applying these standards of Indiana Law, charges cannot be filed.

While the criminal investigation has concluded, the full investigation will be referred to the South Bend Police Department for their own internal review.

Before issuing this press release, the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office met with members of Mr. Kittrell’s family and the South Bend Police Department to inform them of the outcome of the investigation.

Additional information from the St. Joseph County Police Department:

The day of the incident county police detectives spent 14 hours straight interviewing witnesses and collecting & logging evidence. Besides interviewing all witnesses on scene and collecting all body & dash cam video, detectives spent almost two weeks canvassing the neighborhood around the school interviewing any neighbor that was home that day or with information or possible home video, ensuring that they talked to everyone they could.

Detectives interviewed a total of 39 witnesses, including 13 police officers, 18 other witnesses & neighbors, and 8 school employees. Detectives obtained and reviewed a total of 27 videos of the incident, including 10 body cam videos, 14 dash cam videos, and 3 other videos, and copies of all police radio traffic and 911 calls. Detectives knocked on a total of 51 homes, every house within sight of the field at Coquillard School. And lastly, detectives obtained both an autopsy examination report and ballistics testing report. County Police investigators logged over 260 hours of time on this investigation.

During this investigation the department received multiple public records requests from multiple news organizations requesting copies of all South Bend Police Department (SBPD) body cam and dash cam videos of the incident, copies of all 911 calls, and copies of all police radio traffic during the incident.

At this time County Police are releasing to all requestors and the media the police radio traffic and the 911 call gathered by detectives as part of the investigation. The County Police also now formally defer all requests for copies of SBPD videos to the SBPD as the originating & holding agency, except for requests falling within the limited categories listed in I.C. 5-14-3-5.1. The County Police will also continue to comply with the Indiana Access to Public Records Act with any other requests regarding copies of documents or recordings for this incident.

Further community response:

On Wednesday afternoon, Faith in Indiana clergy and leaders responded to the prosecutor’s finding about the police killing of Kittrell with renewed calls to invest in non law-enforcement, clinician led crisis response teams.

Faith and community leaders again called for shifting ten percent of the police budget to mobile crisis response and mental health services.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph County Sheriff William Redman released the following statement on the officer-involved shooting investigation.

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