Officer won’t face criminal charges for firing at shooting suspect’s vehicle in July
photo by: Kim Callahan
Story updated at 4:24 p.m., Sept. 6
A few minutes after a double shooting on July 2, a Lawrence police sergeant spotted the suspect’s vehicle and tried to pull it over, but it sped off and crashed into a yard.
Douglas County District Attorney Charles Branson said in a news release issued Thursday that he won’t file criminal charges against the sergeant for what happened next:
Sgt. Robert Neff drew his gun and ordered the suspect out of the car in the 2100 block of Louisiana Street. Instead, the driver hit the gas, first backing his vehicle into Neff’s patrol car, then accelerating and hitting Neff.
Neff “momentarily” ended up on the suspect’s hood and — before falling to the ground — fired his gun at the driver. Neff continued firing at the vehicle as it, again, drove off.
“After an extensive review of all records and evidence presented to the Douglas County District Attorney’s Office, the District Attorney finds no criminal liability on the part of Sgt. Neff for the discharge of his weapon,” Branson said.
Neff suffered abrasions and bruising from the incident, Branson said.
The suspect, later identified as Tommy J. May, 59, of Lawrence, suffered a laceration to his arm that law enforcement initially said was possibly from gunfire but never confirmed was from being shot.
“It is unknown if the laceration was caused by a bullet or some other source of injury,” Branson said in Thursday’s release.
photo by: Douglas County Sheriff’s Office
With another outside law enforcement agency, the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office, already tied up investigating two other recent incidents in which Lawrence police fired guns at suspects, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation was asked to investigate this one.
The KBI then forwarded its case to Branson for a charging decision regarding the police sergeant.
The sergeant was placed on administrative leave after the incident, per Lawrence Police Department policy. With Branson’s review complete, the Lawrence Police Department will “immediately” begin an internal review of the incident to determine whether any department policies were violated, according to a department news release. The department said there’s not a set timeline for how long that will take.
Though the sergeant isn’t being charged in the confrontation, the DA intends to seek more criminal charges against May stemming from it. Prosecutors plan to make that request at May’s preliminary hearing, scheduled for Oct. 16, Cheryl Wright Kunard, Branson’s assistant, said Thursday in an email response to an inquiry from the Journal-World.
The double shooting that May is accused of happened about 9:30 p.m. July 2 at 713 W. 25th St., a four-unit apartment building where May lives.
Shortly after the violent confrontation with Neff that night, police found and arrested May near 22nd and Ohio streets.
May was charged July 5 with two counts of attempted murder — one first-degree and one second-degree — and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm.
He allegedly shot a woman who was visiting him inside his apartment, Marzetta Yarbrough. She fled the apartment and hid outside, where May then allegedly confronted and shot his neighbor, Jeremy C. Jones.
Both victims were taken to Kansas City area hospitals with life-threatening injuries. They survived the shootings, though Jones was left paralyzed from the waist down.
May’s case remains pending in Douglas County District Court. He is jailed on $500,000 bond.
May was on parole when the shootings happened. He had served, collectively, more than 20 years in prison for a 2004 robbery conviction in Saline County and two aggravated robberies he committed in March and June of 1984 in Sedgwick County, according to Kansas Department of Corrections records.