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The Kansas City Star
May 3, 1996
Author: REGINA AKERS, OSCAR AVILA; Staff Writers
A Kansas City firefighter was shot to death by Kansas City police early Thursday after he allegedly charged two officers with a knife. The officers were responding to a domestic dispute at the firefighter’s Northland home.
James B. Miller, 42, died at a hospital. He was on an unpaid emergency family leave from the Fire Department, where he had worked 19 years. Police would not say where or how many times Miller had been shot, but neighbors said they heard two gunshots.
Police were called about 4 a.m. to a duplex at Northeast 51st Street and North Oakley Avenue, where Miller lived with his wife. Marcheita Miller, 50, said she and her husband began arguing over money after she returned home about 3:30 a.m. from an outing with friends.
Finances had been tight and tensions high since James Miller’s leave began in February because of an injured vertebrae, his wife said. He had been taking anti-depressants and other medicines. His wife said Miller was under psychiatric care and had seen his psychiatrist Wednesday. “He was emotionally distraught because of stress,” said Marcheita Miller, who is disabled and unemployed. “We have been without funds. He’s been under a lot of mental strain. ” Miller’s boss said co-workers noted a marked change in Miller’s personality after his son, who was about 8 years old, was killed while playing on railroad tracks more than 10 years ago.
But Michael Morrow, battalion chief at Fire Station No. 6, said Miller’s violent behavior Thursday morning was unbelievable. “He was very quiet, very subdued – even withdrawn,” Morrow said. Marcheita Miller acknowledged fearing for her life in the minutes before police arrived. Her husband was threatening her with a knife, a friend said.
Marcheita Miller said she had never seen her husband so enraged. “That’s what’s so weird,” she said. “If anything, his anger might be pouting. Before he would get into a real confrontation, he’d leave the house. ” The couple was married in June but had dated for five years.
This is what happened, according to police: Two officers responded to a report of domestic violence at the couple’s duplex. When they arrived, they heard a woman screaming for help. They knocked on the door and identified themselves as police officers. A man responded “Go away! ” and said it was a domestic problem that he would handle. When the woman screamed again, police forced the door open. There, they confronted Miller armed with a large knife. When he lunged at police, one officer shot him, said Officer Russ Dykstra, a police spokesman.
Marcheita Miller was treated for minor injuries at a hospital and released. She said she suffered “small lacerations and bruises” on her arms. She also hit her head against a door. Jeff Potter, who lives in the adjoining duplex, said he called police after he was awakened by Marcheita Miller’s pounding on his bedroom walls and screaming for help.
“It sounded as if she was being thrown all around her apartment into the walls and crashing into things,” Potter said. “She was basically screaming for her life. He kept saying, ‘You’re going to die. ‘ Then at that point she started screaming out my name and saying, ‘Help me! Help me! ‘ She was screaming at the top of her lungs. ” Potter and others who knew James Miller said Miller’s behavior was out of character. Potter said he’d never before heard the couple argue.
“He was always nice; never, never upset,” Potter said. “He was the quiet and easygoing type. Last night was real weird; you could tell from his voice he was not the same. The guy was nuts. ” Police would not identify the officer who shot Miller. He had been on the force since 1994. The other officer was a nine-year veteran.
Police said James Miller had no criminal record. Both officers were placed on paid administrative leave, standard procedure after a fatal shooting. A police “shooting team” will conduct an investigation and submit a report to Clay County prosecutors, who will decide what action to take.
Both officers must complete mandatory psychological tests to see whether they are fit to return to work. If they are cleared, their commanding officer will decide when they can return to work. The internal-affairs department also will conduct its own investigation to determine whether the officers followed procedure, Sgt. David Bosworth said. The department has 30 working days to complete its investigation, he said.
Record Number: 359575