Officers testify that civilian charged with felony disrupted police work during armed standoff, endangering himself and others

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Phillip Michael Eravi is pictured at a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

A police officer testified on Monday that he was “cold and tired” after three hours in a sniper position during an armed standoff when a Lawrence man walked onto the scene and refused to obey commands to leave the area or take cover.

The man, Phillip Michael Eravi, 54, of Lawrence, is now charged with one count of felony interference in the case. Police allege that when Eravi walked onto the scene and refused to obey commands he forced multiple officers to leave their protected positions while an armed man was barricaded inside his home after allegedly exchanging gunfire with his neighbor, as the Journal-World reported. Eravi waived his right to a preliminary hearing in August and was in court on Monday for the court to hear multiple motions in the case.

The alleged shooter, Joshua Evan Townsend, 50, was later charged with attempted second-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for allegedly shooting at his neighbor on May 19 in the 1900 block of Heatherwood Drive. Police arrived on the scene around 10:30 p.m. and were finally able to take Townsend into custody around 4 a.m.

On Monday, police officer David McShane testified that when he arrived on scene around 11 p.m., the neighborhood was “hectic” and “unsecure” and that police had information that Townsend was in possession of a long rifle and a pistol with a laser scope.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Officer David McShane testifies at a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

“The likelihood of officers in the area being struck by gunfire was extremely high,” said McShane, who now works for the Topeka Police Department.

McShane said that after assisting other officers in creating a perimeter and informing area residents to either evacuate or to shelter in place, he took a “sniper position” southwest of Townsend’s residence. There he watched for any movement in and out of the house for about three hours before he was given permission to take a break.

“I was pretty cold and tired,” McShane said.

McShane left his position just before 2 a.m. on the south side of the house and positioned himself behind the department’s armored car, parked in Townsend’s driveway, while the Critical Response Team, or CRT, was using a loudspeaker to make contact with Townsend inside. The CRT leader, Sgt. Meagan Shipley, then radioed that someone was entering the perimeter and asked McShane to intercept that person, later identified as Eravi.

“I illuminated the area with my light and told him to stop and to leave,” McShane testified.

Eravi ignored McShane’s commands, he said, and continued to get closer, walking behind the CRT. McShane said he positioned himself between Eravi, whom he had never met before, and Townsend’s residence to prevent Eravi from becoming a target if anyone started shooting. He said Eravi was wearing bright green and would have been an easy target.

“I got between him and the house to prevent him from getting shot, putting myself in the line of fire,” McShane said.

He said that he told Eravi to either go inside a nearby building, turn around and leave the area southbound or, if Eravi insisted on going north, to stay close to him so he could “cover” Eravi.

Assistant District Attorney Brian Deiter asked McShane how Eravi responded to those options.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Assistant District Attorney Brian Deiter, left, questions Topeka police officer David McShane during a hearing for Phillip Michael Eravi on Dec. 11, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

“(Eravi) said he’s ‘not a person who needs to be covered’ and he’s ‘a free person’,” McShane said.

McShane described Eravi as “meandering” around the area and that when he told his commanding officer that Eravi refused commands, he was ordered to take Eravi into custody, which McShane did by approaching Eravi and placing him in an “armbar.”

“(Eravi) screamed that I was roughing him up. He pulled away aggressively and demanded my badge number. He was flailing his arms in a tantrum-style manner,” McShane said.

Deiter then presented body camera footage from the arrest that shows McShane and another officer escorting Eravi away from the scene to a nearby parking area. McShane had one of Eravi’s arms while Eravi’s other arm waved freely as Eravi cursed at the officers.

Eravi could be heard in the video saying, “You mother(expletive) woke me up” and “Why are you mother(expletive) roughing me up.” Eravi asked why he was arrested while other people were around him walking freely. McShane explained that the others had complied with commands to get out of the line of fire.

During the arrest, multiple officers are seen assisting McShane to try to get Eravi under control, including CRT leader Shipley, who can be seen wearing a helmet as part of her rifle-plate CRT armor. Shipley testified later Monday that the rifle-plate gear has extra steel plates to give officers additional protection against higher-caliber rounds.

McShane said that once they calmed Eravi down he was taken into custody without further incident and did not require medical treatment.

Eravi’s attorney, Angela Keck, asked McShane if he ever told Eravi specifically what the danger was when he commanded him to leave the area. McShane said he just told Eravi that it wasn’t safe.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

At a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023, Attorney Angela Keck points at the residence in the 1900 block of Heatherwood Drive where police were engaged in an armed standoff in May. Her client, Phillip Michael Eravi, is accused of interfering and forcing police officers from their protected positions during the standoff.

After McShane testified, Lawrence police officer Joshua Doncouse testified that he was positioned behind the armored vehicle with patrol service dog Shadow when the commotion with Eravi broke out. He said that Shadow’s focus was initially on Townsend’s house since it was lit up with spotlights, and Doncouse had given Shadow the command to “heel,” but the shouting distracted Shadow.

“Shadow turned and began barking and pulling that way,” Doncouse said.

Shadow could pull Doncouse off his feet if he had the chance, Doncouse said, but he had a good grip on Shadow; however, the dog was able to pull Doncouse out from behind the armored vehicle and into the line of fire. He said it took several minutes to get Shadow to calm down and to refocus on Townsend’s residence and back behind the armored vehicle.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Officer Joshua Doncouse testifies at a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023 in Douglas County District Court.

Shipley testified that the operation required two perimeters around Townsend’s residence. The outer perimeter was about a block away from the residence in every direction; it was established about a block to the south, marked by a patrol vehicle with its lights on parked perpendicular in the roadway. The northern boundary was manned by other command staff, she said, and the east had patrol cars, while the western boundary in the yards behind Townsend’s residence was manned by officers on foot.

However, the scene was too large to block off with tape, and Shipley said that having an officer walk around the scene with bright yellow tape would be too risky for that officer.

Shipley said the second perimeter, the inner perimeter, was half the distance from the outer perimeter and was created to prevent anyone from escaping the scene. She said the CRT was primarily focused inward but was also tasked with making sure no one entered the inner perimeter. She said she saw a person approaching them from behind and ordered McShane to intercept. After McShane identified the man as Eravi and said that he refused to move, Shipley ordered Eravi to be arrested.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Sgt. Meagan Shipley testifies at a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.

“He’s known to carry a firearm, and he is standing behind us during an active shooting scenario,” Shipley said.

Shipley said she doesn’t know why the outer perimeter was not better manned to prevent Eravi from getting so close but that between floodlights and loudspeakers it should have been obvious to a reasonable person that it was an active crime scene.

“There was an armored vehicle in the driveway. People would know to stay away,” Shipley said.

Judge Amy Hanley stopped Shipley’s testimony near 5 p.m. on Monday. She asked how many witnesses Keck and Deiter had left to testify. Deiter said that Shipley was the last witness for the state, but Keck said she had five more officers who needed to testify and that between those officers and the rest of Shipley’s testimony, she needed another five hours.

Hanley said she was frustrated that the court was told by the parties that the hearing would only take three hours total and that the hearing now looked as though it could take a day and a half. She said that the court had a full schedule for the next few months and it would be March before the court would have another day to devote to the matter.

Hanley then scheduled the second half of the hearing for March 8, 2024, when she will hear remaining testimony in regard to Eravi’s motion to suppress evidence, a motion to dismiss the case based on alleged First Amendment violations and other motions. Eravi is currently free on a $750 cash bond.

Eravi’s motion to suppress asks the court to suppress the probable cause affidavit filed by Shipley in support of Eravi’s arrest, alleging that the affidavit contains “false statements, material omissions and blanket assertions” regarding the perimeter of the crime scene and McShane’s interactions with Eravi.

Eravi’s motion to dismiss based on First Amendment violations argues that the interference statute that he is charged under is being applied too broadly and has been used to target him. “To prohibit a constitutional activist and ‘free human’ from walking in public places to observe police activity … it smacks of retaliatory animus against the police accountability for which Mr. Eravi works to maintain,” the motion says.

Eravi filed a federal lawsuit in November against the City of Lawrence, alleging First Amendment violations after he was trespassed from the city-supported encampment for homeless people in North Lawrence, as the Journal-World reported.

photo by: Chris Conde/Journal-World

Phillip Michael Eravi is pictured at a hearing on Dec. 11, 2023, in Douglas County District Court.


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