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By Celinda Emison ( Contact)
Wednesday, May 20, 2009
City officials in Breckenridge were tight-lipped following the outcome of grand jury proceedings Tuesday when two police officers were no-billed in connection with the shooting death of Michael Wayne Richardson.
Richardson, 37, of Albany, died from a single gunshot wound during a confrontation with police at 12:36 a.m. Nov. 29, initial reports said. Breckenridge police officers Scott Gabriel and Jason Holt have been on paid leave since the Nov. 29 incident.
Breckenridge Police Chief Larry Mahan declined to comment on the case but said the officers would remain on paid leave until the next meeting of the Breckenridge city commission, slated for the first Tuesday in June.
“The commission will determine whether the officers will return to duty,” Mahan said.
Family and friends of Richardson were devastated after the Stephens County grand jury declined to indict either officer involved.
“I am just disappointed with the whole thing,” Wayne Richardson, Mike’s father, said Wednesday morning.
Richardson’s mother, Connie Jackson, was contacted by Brenda Gray, district attorney for Stephens and Young counties, after the grand jury session ended late Tuesday night. Gray said proceedings began at 9:30 a.m. and ended at 8:30 p.m.
“I believe there was a thorough investigation, and I respect the grand jury’s decision,” Gray said.
Gray said the case could be presented to another grand jury, but that she will not do so.
Mark Haney, a Fort Worth attorney who put the city on notice in January that wrongful death and civil litigation may be forthcoming, tried to encourage the Richardson family Wednesday.
“My clients are disappointed with the results of the grand jury,” Haney said. “The fact that the officers were no-billed as to criminal liability does not mean that there is not a civil claim against them or the city of Breckenridge.”
Haney explained that the burden of proof is different in criminal and civil claims.
“We intend to continue our investigation into this matter to determine if the officers and/or the city can be held civilly accountable for their conduct,” Haney said. “I believe Michael Richardson should still be alive enjoying life with his family. If there are civil claims to pursue, we intend to pursue them.”
According to Reporter-News archives, when officers arrived on the scene, they found Richardson’s pickup caught on an aluminum gate post with the wheels spinning. The officers said Richardson did not respond to their verbal commands, and they believed he was attempting to shoot at them, so they opened fire, investigators reported. The investigation revealed that both officers fired their weapons and that the fatal shot was fired from Holt’s gun.
Sgt. Shane Morrow, lead investigator on the team of Texas Rangers investigating the case, initially reported that Richardson had a .22-caliber gun on the front seat of the truck — and it appeared to officers that he “was leaning down to pick it up.” Morrow did not return calls for comment Wednesday.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide. Richardson died from a single gunshot wound behind his right ear.
The coroner did not find any gunshot residue on Richardson’s hands, indicating he had not recently fired a gun.
Investigators determined that Richardson had just taken a friend home from a Breckenridge bar when the incident occurred.
Toxicology results released in February by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office show Richardson’s blood alcohol level was at .053 percent, below the .08 legal limit for intoxication in Texas. The level of the antidepressant citalopram, known by the brand name Celexa and found in Richardson’s system, wasn’t remarkable. Ibuprofen also was detected in his system.
“I want my son’s name cleared,” said Jackson. “He never pulled a gun on anyone, and he was not drunk.”
The day after the incident, Richardson’s red Dodge Ram double cab pickup was released to his family with blood still covering the console.
“That is routine; when our investigation is complete, we return the vehicle,” Morrow said in an earlier interview.
More than 100 friends and family showed up at an impromptu memorial service at a local wrecking yard, where mourners gathered around the truck, laid flowers and prayed.
The truck was impounded a second time by investigators to obtain more forensic evidence and later released to the family.
Following Richardson’s death, Breckenridge resident Shai Berry organized “Justice for Mike” in hopes that the group could bring attention to the incident.
Berry said she, too, was disappointed by the findings of the grand jury.
“This is no way to clean up our (police) department’s reputation,” Berry said. “It only added fuel to the fire and it is no way for this community to begin the healing process.”
Breckenridge shooting death not forgotten
By Celinda Emison
Posted November 28, 2009 at 9:41 p.m.
It has been one year since Michael Richardson was shot to death by Breckenridge police, but the grieving continues for family and friends.
Shai Berry, a family friend, organized Justice for Mike to raise funds to help Richardson’s family. Her response is typical of those with questions that have lingered since his death.
“Mike didn’t have to die that night,” Berry said. “Not only his death, but the way he died left a hole in the hearts of so many that only justice can begin to heal.”
Richardson, 37, of Albany, died from a single gunshot wound during a confrontation with police at 12:36 a.m. Nov. 29, 2008, initial reports said.
Breckenridge police officers Scott Gabriel and Jason Holt were on paid leave until the grand jury in May determined there was not enough evidence to prosecute them for the shooting.
Holt, who investigators determined fired the fatal shot, was ultimately released from duty. Gabriel continues to work for the Breckenridge police department.
Many questions have surrounded the case in the weeks and months after the shooting death.
The Reporter-News filed a public information request with the Department of Public Safety and received copies of the reports from officers and witnesses involved, as well as copies of in-dash videos recorded at the scene.
However, a request to the city of Breckenridge for the personnel files of the two officers was challenged by attorneys for the city, even after the Attorney General of Texas ruled that the city should release the files.
To date, the city has not turned over the officers’ personnel files.
Mark Haney, a Fort Worth attorney who represents Richardson’s family, also has been denied access to the officers’ personnel records.
Haney said last week he plans to file a federal lawsuit alleging civil rights violations.
“We intend to file suit because we believe that the death of Michael Richardson should never had occurred but for the actions of the police department, and we intend to hold them accountable for that loss,” Haney said. “The citizens of Breckenridge need to have some light shined on that police department.”
Andy Messer, the attorney hired by the city of Breckenridge, said he will “vigorously defend” the city and the officials should a lawsuit be filed.
“We expected a lawsuit the minute we received notice of their representation of counsel,” Messer said.
Messer has filed motions blocking the release of the personnel records.
“We think the Texas Rangers investigation shows the important facts of the case,” Messer said. “We think the officers were justified in their actions.”
A day before
The day before the shooting, Richardson spent Thanksgiving with his mother Connie Jackson and his sister and her three children.
“We did all of the cooking and everyone kind of helped,” Connie Jackson remembered. “We watched football and stayed close to home.”
Then everybody napped for a while, got up a little later and ate some more.
“I remember Michael got him a great big piece of pecan pie and got on the bed and watched football,” his mother recalled.
He slept at her house that night. They all got up early that morning to go shop.
First they stopped to get cell phones for Richardson’s two sons, Bryant and Bryson, both teenagers. Then the family went to Walmart.
“We were calling each other on cell phones in the store and finally as I was checking out I saw him by the Christmas trees and waved,” Connie said.
That would be the last time she saw her son alive.
After shopping, Richardson and some friends were out shooting feral hogs. He left with a cooler loaded down with Gatorade and set out with a rifle he kept in his truck.
“He usually never drank when he was hunting,” said his uncle, James Jackson.
The hunting trip with a friend was the reason her son had a gun in his truck, his mother, said Connie Jackson.
Afterward, he went back to Albany where he lived, dropped off the gifts for his two sons, Bryant and Bryson, cleaned up and headed back to Breckenridge.
Hours before death
When he returned to Breckenridge later that evening, Richardson reportedly headed over to Potter’s Bar and Grill. In a report taken by investigators from the Texas Rangers, owner and bartender Amy Potter said that Richardson usually came into the bar once or twice a week.
On Friday, Nov. 28, the bar was busy, with about 140 customers inside. Potter told investigators she had never met Richardson but knew who he was. Several of her bartenders knew him.
She said he usually drank Vodka and 7-Up but “sometimes he drinks fake drinks to give the impression he is drinking.”
That night, Richardson paid for two rounds of shots for friends and paid for five mixed drinks. He paid his tab of $230 at 12:15 a.m. Potter said he was buying drinks for friends and handing them out just before last call.
“Everyone said Michael was sober when he left the bar,” Potter said in the statement. He took local bail bondsman Buddy Moser home that night.
In his statement to investigators, Moser said when Richardson asked him if he needed a ride home, he said he did. When the two left the bar, he told investigators he thought “Michael was acting fine and was all right to drive.”
“I went into my house and heard what sounded like seven gunshots,” Moser’s affidavit says. “I never thought it was involving Michael.” Moser said he called his son after hearing that Richardson had been shot.
“At no time did I ever see a gun in Michael’s truck,” Moser said.
As he drove away from Moser’s home, Richardson reportedly ran over a trash can and was dragging it under his truck, he made his way down the street and eventually landed with his truck hung up on a chain-link fence at the intersection of West 1st Street and North Court Avenue. In his statement to investigators, homeowner William Lord said he believed Richardson was about to drive his truck through the home there.
Lord went to the driver’s side window and asked Richardson what he was doing but noted he had a blank look on his face.
The initial call to 911 was made by a woman who reported her mailbox down.
According to Reporter-News archives, when officers arrived on the scene, they found Richardson’s pickup caught on an aluminum gate post with the wheels spinning.
The officers said Richardson did not respond to their verbal commands, and they believed he was reaching for a .22 caliber rifle, so one of the officers fired into the truck.
The investigation revealed that both officers fired their weapons and that the fatal shot was fired from Holt’s gun.
Holt was dispatched to the scene at 500 Court Street at 12:38 a.m.
Holt, who had been a police officer for a little less than six years, said when he was approaching the scene, he noticed a large cloud of smoke coming from a red 2007 Dodge Ram pickup. Holt said he believed Richardson, who he called “the suspect” was attempting to drive through the home and wanted to get away from police.
In his statement, Holt claims he saw Richardson reach down and touch the scope on the rifle so he opened fire.
Meanwhile Officer Scott Gabriel arrived on the scene with Wayne McMullen, the city code enforcement officer who was accompanying him on patrol.
In his statement, Gabriel said he tried to get Richardson’s attention, by attempting to break out the windows of the vehicle with a baton or the butt of his revolver, but he could not.
He then fired shots into the tires of the vehicle and his weapon jammed. Gabriel said he saw a rifle in the front seat but did not indicate he saw Richardson reaching for it.
There was only one streetlight illuminating the area, and Richardson’s windows had a dark tint. In the two to three minutes from the time Holt arrived to the time shots were fired, Holt maintains in his statement that he saw Richardson reach for the rifle.
“Without any other choice, I reacted by firing several shots at the suspect driver, through the passenger side front window,” Holt wrote in his report. Holt said he recalled firing seven shots into the vehicle.
Gabriel was on the driver’s side of the vehicle when he radioed dispatch that “shots had been fired,” according to his statement.
“I heard multiple shots being fired from the direction that Officer Holt was at,” Gabriel reported.
Gabriel said the truck stopped moving, and he went to the passenger side to assess the situation.
Meanwhile, Holt had radioed in for an ambulance.
All three officers said Richardson looked at them with a blank stare, like he did not know what was going on.
One of the shots hit Richardson just above the right ear and killed him.
When Gabriel finally got the door of the vehicle open, he noted Richardson was slumped over to the right side with blood coming from his head. Gabriel assisted medics in loading Richardson onto the ambulance.
Texas Ranger Sgt. Shane Morrow was called to the scene to conduct the investigation.
Immediately after the shooting, Holt was escorted to the patrol car of DPS Trooper Grant Atkinson. Moments later, the weapons of Holt, Gabriel and McMullen were confiscated, and the three officers were taken to the police department where they gave their statements.
Moments after the shooting, Gabriel reported that he retrieved the rifle from the passenger side of the vehicle. Atkinson corroborated that report, saying he offered cover while Gabriel retrieved the rifle.
“I did not see the exact location of the rifle since I was at the back of the pickup,” Atkinson’s statement says.
Witness Angelo Santos, who lived across the street, said he saw an officer break out the driver’s side window after the shots were fired.
“The officer reached in the driver side door and grabbed a long brown item that appeared to be a rifle with black clip … and handed it to a fireman,” Santos recalled in his statement.
Meanwhile, Richardson was transported to the Stephens County Memorial Hospital, where doctors pronounced him brain-dead. He was then sent to Harris Hospital in Fort Worth, where he was pronounced dead. His body was then transported to the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Officer for an autopsy.
The next day
Within 24 hours, the Texas Rangers released Richardson’s bullet-ridden truck to his family.
And the next day, family and friends gathered at the local wrecking yard for a memorial service to honor Richardson. They looked at and touched the truck, which was riddled with more than 20 bullet holes and still had Richardson’s blood covering the console.
“He never even had a traffic ticket,” his father Wayne Richardson said at the service.
The truck was impounded again about a month after the shooting, so investigators could continue the investigation.
The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office ruled the death a homicide. Richardson died from a single gunshot wound behind his right ear, which was determined to have come from Holt’s gun, a .40 caliber Glock semi-automatic handgun.
The autopsy, conducted by Dr. Nizam Peerwani, revealed that Richardson had an enlarged heart, but there were no other remarkable findings.
Toxicology results released in February by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office show Richardson’s blood alcohol level was at .053 percent, below the .08 legal limit for intoxication in Texas.
The level of the antidepressant citalopram, known by the brand name Celexa, was found in Richardson’s blood and wasn’t remarkable at 52 NG/ML (nanograms). Ibuprofen also was detected in his system.
Toxicology reports taken on the three officers showed that Holt also had 1450 NG/ML of Celexa in his urine. There were no drugs or other substances detected in results for Gabriel or McMullen.
Almost immediately questions swirled around the officers and the circumstances involved in the shooting. Holt, 29, had only been with the department for one year and eight months before he was fired. In the five years and seven months that Holt has been a certified peace officer, he has worked for five law enforcement agencies, including Breckenridge.
He also worked at the Lamb County Sheriff’s Office, Idalou Police Department, Borger Police Department, Petersburg Police Department and as a jailer for the Floyd County Sheriff’s Office, according to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, or TCLEOSE.
Records now indicate Holt was hired by the Wheeler County Sheriff’s Office in August. TCLEOSE records do not show that any disciplinary actions have been filed against him.
Gabriel, 34, remains on the Breckenridge police force, having worked there his entire career, according to TCLEOSE records. Gabriel became a certified peace officer in May of 2007.
The family’s hope
Connie Jackson still carries the message in a fortune cookie that was pulled out of her son’s car the day hundreds of friends and family gathered at the wrecking yard.
It reads: “A great honor will be bestowed upon you in the coming year.”
His mother said the best honor would be answers to this case.
“I would like to get to the bottom of this and find out why my son was killed,” she said.
In a perfect world, she wants her son back, but she knows that is impossible.
“Plus I want my son’s name cleared, of being a drunk and pulling a gun on a police officer because I want his kids to be able to hold their heads up and know how respected he was.”
Justice for Mike
In the days and weeks that followed Richardson’s death, friend and family questioned the actions of the police.
“It is important for us to make sure if something like this ever happens again, it is handled without taking a man’s life,” said Berry, who founded Justice for Mike. “Mike’s family, especially his young boys, are still feeling the anguish of losing him. Their pain is as raw as it was one year ago.”
Berry said she and others are overwhelmed with emotion on the anniversary of Richardson’s death.
“I hope this story reminds everyone exactly what they have to be thankful for this year. I am completely overwhelmed with emotion this week,” she said. “I hope someday we can look back on all this and know we both made a difference here.”