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Archive for Saturday, September 2, 2006

Grand jury: Police officer used lawful deadly force

Recent Topeka altercation, traffic chase ended with driver being killed

September 2, 2006

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— A Topeka police officer did nothing illegal in the fatal shooting of a man who led officers on a traffic chase, according to a Shawnee County grand jury.

The Topeka Police Department's Shooting Review Board reached the same conclusion - that Officer Joe Crough, 34, a nine-year department veteran, acted within standard procedures when he shot Gregory R. Eilert, 45, of Topeka on Monday.

Eilert was the fourth person shot by Topeka police in nine months and the second to die. The last time a Topeka police officer fatally shot someone was in 1997.

Since 1996, there have been 15 shootings involving Topeka police officers. Five of the shootings were fatal. All were ruled justified except for the last two, which remain under investigation or review.

Topeka detectives are completing their investigation of Monday's shooting and will forward their report to the district attorney's office.

"Our shooting review board found it to be justified, but the detectives are completing their investigation, as is the case with every officer involved shooting," said police spokeswoman Kristi Pankratz.

Dist. Atty. Robert Hecht released a report Thursday that 18 witnesses testified before the grand jury. He said his office doesn't disagree with the grand jury's conclusions.

In a letter to interim Police Chief Walt Wywadis, Hecht wrote that his office's concern and the police department's unwillingness to have such an investigation by outside agencies caused him to present the matter to the grand jury.

Eilert was shot about 9:45 a.m. Monday after an officer was summoned to a residence because Eilert was violating a protection-from-abuse order. Eilert struck the officer in the jaw and the officer subsequently fired his electroshock stun gun, which didn't function properly, Hecht said.

"The male (Eilert) responded to the effect you only hit me once, I have a gun in my car and I am going to shoot you," Hecht said in a statement.

Eilert, who had a history of violence against the female occupant of the residence dating back to 1997, got in his car and fled.

Hecht said officers who joined in the chase encountered road construction at a city intersection where Eilert tried to negotiate past a pickup truck and a van.

Hecht said a patrol car was bumper to bumper with Eilert's car, another patrol car was headed toward a collision with Eilert's car and officers on foot were ordering him to get out. Eilert's car already had struck private vehicles in his attempt to elude arrest.

Eilert was shot after he maneuvered his car free from the cluster of vehicles in the intersection, turned and drove toward an officer standing on a raised median, Hecht said. That officer fired the fatal shots.

Eilert later died at a Topeka hospital.

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