Jacksonville, AR – Two Jacksonville police officers have been cleared of any wrongdoing in the officer-involved shooting death of a burglary suspect who drove at them in a stolen pickup in June (video below).
The incident began at approximately 11:15 p.m. on June 13, when two members of the Crain Ford dealership’s cleaning crew heard someone breaking into the business, Jacksonville Police Chief John Franklin told reporters during a press conference on Tuesday.
The employees spotted the suspect, later identified as 22-year-old Tramon Savage, as he forced his way into the showroom area.
One of the employees fled the business on foot, and went to a nearby gas station to have the clerk alert police.
The second employee hid in a closet at the dealership.
Jacksonville Police Officer Logan Kulesa happened to be patrolling the area at the time, so the employee that ran from the scene went and flagged him down, Chief Franklin said.
Officer Kulesa immediately radioed for backup, and police converged on the scene.
The officers looked through the business’ windows, and saw Savage turning on vehicle lights inside the service area of the building.
Officer Kulesa and Officer Shawn Jones separated from the rest of the officers and went around to the rear portion of the building, where they observed a large service bay door rising, Chief Franklin said.
The officers entered the service area with their duty weapons drawn, and spotted Savage “seated behind the [wheel] of an oversized F-250 pickup truck” with dark-tinted windows, the chief explained.
Bodycam footage showed the officers as they announced themselves and ordered Savage to show his hands.
The suspect ignored their repeated commands to stop, and instead drove the large pickup forward in the direction of Officer Jones.
“Officer Shawn Jones was on the driver’s side of the vehicle, and he noted that he couldn’t see Officer Kulesa,” the chief said. “The vehicle was very large, he couldn’t see over the hood to see where Officer Kulesa was, [and] he felt the tires of the vehicle were going right in the direction he last saw Officer Kulesa.”
Fearing for his partner’s safety, Officer Jones fired multiple rounds into the pickup truck.
“Officer Kulesa at this point also could not see Officer Shawn Jones on the driver’s side of the vehicle” from his position on the passenger side, Chief Franklin said.
“He feared for Officer Jones’ safety, and by him hearing the gunshots, he wasn’t sure who was doing the shooting,” the chief noted.
Officer Kulesa could see Savage bent over the steering wheel through the dark-tinted glass, and was concerned he might have been holding a weapon or reaching for a weapon.
“At that point, Officer Kulesa began to fire into the vehicle also,” Chief Franklin said.
The pickup accelerated rapidly and turned towards the open bay door, but crashed into a wall a moment later, bodycam footage showed.
The officers ordered Savage to show his hands, and approached the pickup from opposite sides.
When Officer Kulesa opened the passenger side door, Savage had his hands placed on the dash, the video showed.
Blood was spurting from an apparent gunshot wound by his right shoulder blade.
Officer Kulesa radioed for an ambulance as he and Officer Jones extracted Savage from the vehicle and began rendering aid.
Savage was rushed to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead, Chief Franklin said.
Investigators did not locate any weapons on him or inside the vehicle he attempted to steal.
The criminal and internal investigations into the officer-involved shooting have been completed, and the findings were turned over to the Pulaski County Prosecutor’s Office for further review, the chief told reporters.
Chief Franklin said that the officers’ use of deadly force was justified, and that they fired to defend themselves and each other.
“It’s tragic any time we lose a life out here in the investigation of a burglary or theft of an auto,” the chief said. “But, basically, under the circumstances, fearing for their life, fearing for each other’s lives, they fired in self-defense of each other, and at that point, I can’t rule it as anything else but justifiable, considering their mindset at the time it occurred.”
Officer Kulesa and Officer Jones have both been with the department for slightly less than three years.
They have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, as per protocol.
Chief Franklin said that the department had several contacts with Savage during the three-week period prior to the officer-involved shooting, and that he had passed a “hand-drawn $5 bill” at a nearby convenience store shortly before breaking into the dealership.
Kymara Hill-Seals, a spokesperson for Savage’s family, said that the officers should have done more to try to de-escalate the situation prior to opening fire, KTHV reported.
“The big thing: there was no de-escalation at the scene,” Hill-Seals declared. “There should’ve been de-escalation with Tramon and the police officers. And it looks like, apparently, they just wanted to shoot, shoot, shoot, reload, and shoot more. That’s troubling.”
Hills-Seals said that the family wants to see the officers criminally charged.
“We want charges pressed. We want justice for Tramon. We demand justice. We’re gonna do our part, we’re gonna stay on top of this,” Hills-Seals added. “Hopefully, for the next people, no other family will have to go through this. It’ll be too late for Tramon, we know, too late for Tramon, but going forward, we don’t want to see this happen to another person. At all.”
You can watch footage of the officers’ encounter with Savage in the video below. WARNING - Graphic Content