Oklahoma County DA won't file charge in videotaped trooper shooting

Saturday, September 27th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A highway patrol trooper who shot an uncooperative, intoxicated motorist in the back was a rookie who made a ``split-second mistake,'' but she did not violate the law, Oklahoma County District Attorney Wes Lane said Friday.

Lateka Anderson, the first female, black trooper to graduate from the Oklahoma Highway Patrol academy, used excessive force during a June 7 traffic stop, Lane said. But her actions did not warrant a criminal charge because she ``may have avoided a public safety tragedy to innocent bystanders.''

Anderson, 24, shot Justin Lyle Thomas, 21, after he refused to put his hands behind him and tried to get away.

She had pulled him over for speeding on Interstate 35 in south Oklahoma City about 1 a.m. and given him a sobriety test. Thomas _ who had a blood-alcohol content of 0.09 percent, above the legal limit _ wobbled as he walked heel-to-toe along the side of the highway. He also had traces of marijuana in his system and a small amount of marijuana was found in his pickup truck after the shooting.

A videotape made by a camera in the patrol board shows Anderson screaming and cursing at Thomas to put his hands behind his back.

``You want to be shot?'' she yells. ``I got a gun.''

Instead of facing the patrol car and putting his hands behind his back, Thomas keeps turning toward the trooper and saying, ``I'm not doing anything.'' When he breaks free and heads toward his truck, she fires one shot in his back.

As he lies on the ground moaning, ``You shot me,'' Anderson points her gun at him.

``Hands behind your back,'' she shouts. ``I'll shoot you again!''

Thomas finally complies and the trooper uses her radio to report shots fired.

Thomas' attorney, Fred Shaeffer, said he was not surprised Lane declined to charge the trooper.

``If you're a cop, you can take your night stick and beat the hell out of someone or shoot them in the back and nothing is going to happen,'' he said. ``They never do anything against the cop _ the cop has got a free rein to do anything. He's the judge and jury in Oklahoma County.''

The district attorney said it was the first time he could remember that a law officer was found to have used excessive force in Oklahoma County. Lane, who has reviewed up to 20 use-of-force cases since he became district attorney two years ago, has not filed charges against a law officer.

``I am convinced Trooper Anderson would have been completely justified to use either her baton or pepper spray or both or some other reasonable nondeadly force the moment Thomas refused to turn around and put his hands behind his back,'' Lane said.

Lane said he decided not to file a criminal charge against Anderson because she showed no ``malice of heart'' and could have prevented a tragedy on the highway.

``He was intending and willing to engage the highway patrol and other law enforcement officers in a drunken, high-speed chase that had a very high likelihood of ending in a highway wreck,'' he said.

Anderson, a trooper for a year and a half, has been on paid administrative leave since the shooting. She will remain on leave while the Department of Public Safety investigates, Lt. Chris West said.

``Trooper Anderson, although young, has been an outstanding trooper during her short time with the Department of Public Safety,'' Public Safety Commissioner Bob Ricks said. ``When a trooper feels that his or her life is in jeopardy, the decision, which must be made in a split second, is one of the most difficult situations that an officer can possibly face.''

Anderson's attorney, Gary James, said she was justified in using excessive force because Thomas was assaulting her and trying to get away.

``He was also grabbing her, knocking her belt buckle, knocking her into her police vehicle,'' James said. ``This guy was the aggressor. He fought her.''

The bullet went through Thomas' back, stopping when it struck a rib, his attorney said. He spent several days in the hospital, but has recovered.

Thomas, who had a drug charge from Cleveland County, was out of jail on an appeal bond at the time of arrest. His bond was revoked after the shooting and he has been in the Cleveland County jail for 35 days, Shaeffer said.

Thomas' attorney said they have not discussed a civil case against the state because they are dealing with his criminal charges first.

``Suing the government for money is not his concern,'' Shaeffer said. ``His concern is trying to get something done to get the law enforcement under control. Right now there's no one out there putting a stop to cops beating up citizens and shooting citizens.''

In another case, Lane decided in January not to file criminal charges against two Oklahoma City police officers who hit a man repeatedly with batons during an arrest that was caught on videotape. Lane said the officer did not use excessive force during the arrest of Donald Pete, whose arrest was shown on television news shows across the nation.