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Archive for Wednesday, May 1, 1991

FATAL SHOOTING RULED JUSTIFIABLE

May 1, 1991

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Jurors in a coroner's inquest ruled today that the April 21 fatal shooting of a 22-year-old Native American man by two Lawrence police officers was justifiable.

Dr. Carol Moddrell, Douglas County coroner, read the verdict from the all-white, five-woman and one-man jury at 12:01 p.m. It stated that the death of Gregory Sevier "was caused justifiably."

The jury verdict said Sevier died when two shots pierced his heart. The shooting occurred about 2:30 a.m. at the Sevier family home at 1627 E. 18th Ter.

Sevier family members were sitting on the front row of the gallery in the county commission meeting room, where the inquest was held. They had little immediate reaction to the verdict, but exchanged hugs with acquaintances, then left the courthouse saying they would return to the commission room to hold a press conference at 2 p.m. today.

DOUGLAS COUNTY Dist. Atty. Jim Flory also called a news conference for 10 a.m. Thursday in his office to discuss his course of action. Flory had no comment about the verdict. The verdict is not legally binding on the district attorney. Therefore, Flory may still call for more investigation or file criminal charges.

But the verdict drew criticism from Don Bread, a Haskell Indian Junior College instructor who has been an outspoken critic of how local law enforcement officials have handled investigations into the recent deaths of several Native Americans.

"It was a sham, and they know it," Bread said.

Bread said part of the reason he believes the inquest was a farce is that that the jury was comprised entirely of white people.

"That's part of the problem," he said. "You have a district attorney that made outright falsehoods and police officers that lied."

In testimony Tuesday, Bordman and Phillips said they shot Sevier because he lunged at Bordman with a butcher knife.

Bordman testified that when he arrived at the Sevier home, he tried to open Sevier's bedroom door but found it locked. He testified that he wanted to make sure Sevier was all right, but could not speak with Sevier through the door because loud music was playing in Sevier's room.

BORDMAN testified that he unlocked the door with a toothpick Sevier's father gave him, then pushed open the door with his flashlight.

He then saw Sevier. Bordman said he could not see the knife and repeatedly asked Sevier to show him his hands, but Sevier did not comply.

After talking to Sevier for a couple of minutes, Bordman said, Sevier stepped into the doorway. Bordman then saw the knife.

Bordman testified that he ordered Sevier several times to drop the knife, but Sevier refused.

Bordman testified that he drew his pistol when he saw the knife in Sevier's hand, then backed through a bedroom doorway across the hall. He stopped when he reached the edge of a bed.

Bordman testified he told Sevier over and over again to put down the knife. Bordman testified that he told Sevier, "We don't want to take you anywhere. We don't want to hurt you."

THEN, Bordman said, "He lunged at me. He ran at me. And that's when I fired."

According to testimony Tuesday, police dispatch tapes indicated one of the officers called for an ambulance four minutes and 21 seconds after Bordman arrived at the Sevier home.

Bordman testified that he thought he fired two shots, but said he didn't remember exactly how many times he squeezed the trigger of his Sig Sauer 9mm semiautomatic pistol. Bordman said he also heard Phillips firing.

Bordman testified that he aimed at Sevier's torso, as he had been instructed to do in training. Bordman testified that he felt he had no choice but to shoot Sevier, who he said was four to five feet from him when he charged.

"I shot Gregg because I felt my life was in danger," Bordman said.

Bordman said he shot Sevier, instead of trying to disarm him, because his police training taught him that "you don't try to take knives away from people."

PHILLIPS testified that when he arrived at the house shortly after Bordman, Bordman was asking Sevier to put down the knife.

Phillips testified that he stood behind Bordman. He didn't see a knife, but said Bordman turned to him and said, "I think he still has a knife in his hand."

"At that point, I took out my service weapon and held it down beside my right leg," Phillips testified.

Phillips said he then saw Bordman jump into the bedroom across the hall. Phillips said he stepped backward down the hall and could no longer see Bordman. But he saw Sevier walk out of his bedroom holding a knife in his right hand.

Phillips said he told Sevier to "drop the knife, we just wanted to talk to him." Phillips said he considered trying to disarm Sevier by hitting his right wrist with his baton. But he thought the move was too risky, so he put his baton away.

PHILLIPS testified that Sevier looked past him and said, "Mom, I love you," and then charged Bordman.

Phillips told the jury he fired three shots at Sevier, who was four feet away. When asked why he fired three shots, Phillips said, he was trained to "fire as many shots as necessary to stop hostilities."

Phillips testified that he felt he had no choice but to shoot Sevier. While he was shooting, Phillips said, he did not know Bordman also was firing his weapon.

After the shooting, Phillips testified, he overheard Mrs. Sevier tell someone, "They had to do it or he would have done it to himself, or words to that effect."

Moddrell testified that an autopsy performed by Dr. Kris Sperry, a pathologist from Atlanta, revealed six bullet wounds to the body. Three bullets entered the right side of the body. The other three were on the left side. One bullet from each side tore through Sevier's heart, she said, killing him in seconds.

THE OTHER four bullets entered Sevier's right arm, his left side, the right groin area and near his left leg.

Moddrell testified that Sevier's blood-alcohol level was .278. Under Kansas law, a driver is considered intoxicated if his or her blood-alcohol level is 0.10 or more. She said the paths of the bullets indicate that Sevier, a 6-foot, 200-pound man, was standing when he was shot.

Sevier's parents, Willie and Orene Sevier, testified Tuesday that they called police because they were concerned about their son, who Willie Sevier had seen sitting on his bed with a knife.

The parents said they were hoping police could disarm Sevier.

Willie Sevier testified Tuesday afternoon that the family discovered after the shooting that police dug one bullet out of a closet in their daughter's bedroom. Sevier said his daughter, Judy Hoffman, was in the bedroom at the time and was standing near the place where the bullet entered her room.

"SO DURING this time, she, my oldest daughter, was almost shot, too," Willie Sevier said. He then began sobbing uncontrollably.

Craig Shanks, a Lawrence police detective, testified this morning that Hoffman told him after the shooting that her brother grabbed a knife and threatened to kill her in 1984 or 1985, slashed his wrists with a knife in 1989 and beat her last April.

Hoffman testified Tuesday that she did not remember details of the incidents.

Hoffman testified that after the shooting, she ran to her brother. She said Sevier took three or four breaths, "then his eyes rolled back and his head went limp."

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