Evansville police release body camera footage of March officer-involved shooting

September 2, 2016

By: Shannon Hall, Courier & Press reporter

The Evansville Police Department released the body camera footage on Friday from a March officer-involved shooting that killed a homeless man.

Daniel Wooters, 38, was shot and killed by three Evansville Police officers in March after he stole a police cruiser, led them on a chase, crashed the car and then “advanced” toward officers with a knife.

The body camera footage of Officer Jonathan Helm shows that Wooters gets out of the cruiser while holding a knife. He then begins walking toward officers.

Police Sgt. Jason Cullum said officers told Wooters to drop the knife. He didn’t.

“With the totality of the circumstances, he just carjacked a marked police car at knifepoint,” Cullum said. “We do try to do things to de-escalate the situation. … This is not a situation where we walked up to a guy holding a knife.”

Cullum said nothing in the video shows that Wooters was following officers’ commands.

After Wooters was shot, officers handcuff him and then performed CPR about a minute after he was shot.

Three officers fired 11 shots at Wooters. He was hit seven times. The officers who discharged their weapons were Jason Thomas, 16 years of service; Zach Elfreich, 10 years of service; and Dexter Wolf, two years of service.

“The video verifies the information we put out initially,” Cullum said Friday.

 “When the police take someone’s life, that is the most controversial thing, if you will, that can happen. A lot of people have a lot of questions,” Cullum said. “We want to be transparent in what happened that night. We don’t want there to be an obstacle in our transparency.”

Police waited six months to release the footage. The Courier & Press requested the footage in March, the day after the shooting. This is the second body camera footage the Evansville Police Department has released to the media this week.

Cullum said the shooting was considered an “active investigation” until recently, which is why police waited to release footage. He wasn’t sure when the investigation ended.

“We have to allow these situations to play out,” he said.

The body camera footage released is the only footage of the entire incident. No dash cameras were in the police cars that pursued Wooters. The footage shot was captured by Helm who did not fire upon Wooters.

“Fortunately, we don’t have these very often, but when we do, we want the public to know what’s going on and to feel reassured that information we put out is accurate,” he said of police shootings.

 Police were in route to TGI Friday’s at the Eastland Mall March 15 to look for a man who, according to a mall security guard, “threatened to kill people.”

By the time police arrived, Wooters had walked to the Fifth-Third Bank parking lot, where a uniformed officer approached him. According to police, Wooters advanced at the officer with a knife and stole the officer’s car, leading other arriving officers on a chase up Morgan Avenue.

The chase ended around the 3300 block of East Morgan Avenue, about a mile away from the mall, when the front axle of the stolen cruiser was damaged and spun around, according to police.

Police say Wooters then got out of the car and advanced toward pursuing officers with a knife. Three officers fired at Wooters and he dropped to the ground.

He was taken to a local hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Wooters was listed as homeless but has family in Carbondale, Illinois, according to Vanderburgh County Chief Deputy Coroner Steve Lockyear. Wooters died of internal bleeding from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest, Lockyear said.

The final autopsy report was finished in July, but in August, Lockyear said he couldn’t release toxicology information to the public. Cullum said Wooters’ was under the influence of alcohol.

Police also confirmed that Wooters was the same man involved in a “suspicious circumstance” at Chili’s the same night.

“Officers were called to the restaurant when a man came in and asked if he could leave his duffle bag on one side of the restaurant while he ate on the other side. An employee thought the man’s behavior was suspicious and they called 911,” according to the release from March.

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