Two Topeka police officers who fatally shot Dominique White in September were justified in the shooting and won’t face criminal charges, Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Wednesday afternoon.
Kagay’s decision follows months of speculation and cries for information about the shooting to be released, setting the stage for a possible civil trial by White’s family.
“It is my conclusion that the actions of the officers do not rise to the level of criminal conduct,” Kagay said.
Officers fatally shot Dominique White on Sept. 28 near Ripley Park in East Topeka.
When questioned by officers, White had denied he had a gun, he resisted officers who were trying to retrieve the gun from his shorts pocket, and his left hand hovered over the pocket as he ran, Kagay said.
“Would a reasonable officer believe (White) was a threat to use deadly force? Unequivocally, I believe yes,” Kagay said.
Kagay said the shooting was justified because White, while fleeing, hovered his left hand over the pocket containing the gun, making him a threat to use deadly force.
Before talking to reporters, Kagay said he met with White’s parents and stepparents, as well as a Topeka lawyer representing the family and a New York lawyer who was present by phone. Kagay expressed his condolences to White’s family.
“I do not expect them to agree with my analysis,” Kagay said.
In his analysis of the shooting, he offered details of events before the shooting and during the officers’ pursuit of White.
At 9:20 a.m. Sept. 28, a caller to 911 reported five gunshots had been fired in Ripley Park. The two officers drove across the park after they spotted White walking to the edge of the park. Via his public address system, one officer told White to stop, and he finally did at S.E. 3rd and Lawrence. Kagay said he thinks White fired the five shots.
As the two officers questioned White, one officer who was behind White signaled the second officer that White had a handgun in the left front pocket of his shorts, Kagay said.
White was armed with a 9 mm semiautomatic pistol, which had a live round in the chamber and seven rounds in the magazine. He also had two more loaded magazines in his pocket, as well as a knife.
The two officers grabbed the wrists of White, who struggled, pulled away from the two officers and started to run out of the park, according to the body cam video.
“Don’t move! Put your hands up!” one officer yelled.
Officers pulled their pistols, each officer fired four times, and White was struck three times.
One bullet struck him in the heart and a lung, a second projectile struck a lung, and one grazed his left side, Kagay said.
“Why didn’t you tell me he had a gun?” one officer said to a woman who had been with White in the park before the shooting. The officer was retrieving a first aid kit to tend White. “He was reaching for the gun.”
One officer pulled the pistol from the left pocket of the wounded White.
Individual frames of the police video showed White’s left hand over his left pocket while his right hand swung as he ran.
After a careful review, Kagay said the officers’ use of force was lawful. No judge or jury would find these events to be unlawful, he said.
Kagay said he wouldn’t file criminal charges against the two officers.
Kagay declined to identify the two officers, saying he doesn’t identify the names of people who his office investigates as potential defendants in criminal cases.
He said only that the two officers were veterans of the police department.
Kagay noted Ripley Park has a high amount of violent crime. From 2013 to 2017, the park has had 248 reports of shots fired, 48 counts of aggravated batteries or aggravated assaults, 32 robberies and two homicides, Kagay said.
A seven-page legal analysis of the White shooting addressed why White may have been fleeing the park.
“It is reasonably clear that Mr. White was attempting to hide the fact that he was in possession of a firearm — for good reason,” the analysis said. Mr. White was legally prohibited at the time from possessing a firearm under both state and federal law, and was on supervised release from a conviction for unlawful possession of a firearm by a convicted felon in September 2016, it said.
Based on White’s actions before and during the events, “it is highly likely that Mr. White realized the gravity of being again found in possession of a firearm,” Kagay said.
The two officers didn’t know White, Kagay said.
Kagay, who has a professional relationship with Topeka police officers, said no conflict of interest blocked him from making a decision Wednesday on whether to file charges against the two officers.
“If I believed I had a conflict of interest, I would have sought a special prosecutor,” Kagay said. “It’s common for the local prosecutor to make these decisions.” An example of a conflict of interest would have been if Kagay were a close personal friend of one of the two officers.
Deputy District Attorney Matt Patterson and Charles Kitt, chief of staff in the district attorney’s office, provided the legal analysis to Kagay, the district attorney said.
The video shows one of the officers is Michael Cruse, who was a figure in two other high-profile incidents: the fatal shooting of a retired judge’s dog in 2015 and the 2002 traffic death of a man he struck with his vehicle during a high-speed response to a burglar alarm.
The identity of the second officer, who is seen wearing sunglasses, hasn’t been verified.
In the weeks after the shooting, Topeka Capital-Journal sources identified Cruse as one of the officers involved. On Wednesday, Kagay and city spokeswoman Molly Hadfield both declined to release the officers’ names.
On July 13, 2015, Cruse was responding to a false alarm call at 10:45 a.m. at a Westboro residence when he twice shot a 26-pound miniature Doberman pinscher-boxer mix. The dog was in a backyard equipped with a buried electrical line to keep her in the yard.
Cruse went toward the backyard to check whether the house was secure, then the dog charged him, and Cruse shot the dog, which was barking and growling.
In April 2002, Cruse was driving a police patrol car to what turned out to be a false alarm in North Topeka when his cruiser and a vehicle driven by Leonard “Butch” Porter, 61, collided. Porter was killed.
Cruse pleaded guilty and was sentenced to a year in jail for vehicular homicide. Cruse initially was fired from the police department but later was re-hired after an arbitrator ordered his reinstatement in 2003, according to Topeka Capital-Journal archives.
Topeka Police Department procedure calls for an internal review following a criminal investigation. City spokeswoman Hadfield said officials aren’t releasing body camera video or the names of the officers involved until an internal investigation has been completed.
The review began Wednesday, but it isn’t known when it will conclude, Hadfield said. The officers will remain on administrative leave while under review.
After more than two months of investigating the shooting, Lawrence Police Department turned the case over to Kagay on Nov. 29.
Kagay said the Lawrence police did a “thorough” investigation of White’s shooting and that he hadn’t sought follow-up investigation in the shooting probe.