Pubdate: Wed, 05 Feb 2003
Author: Cathy Mong, Dayton Daily News
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2003 Dayton Daily News
Author: Cathy Mong, Dayton Daily News
Bookmark: (Clayton Helriggle)


Special Prosecutor: Case Far From Over

EATON - A Preble County grand jury on Tuesday declined to indict
Preble County Sheriff's Emergency Services Unit officers in the
shooting of 23-year-old Clayton Helriggle, and a special prosecutor
called his death a justifiable homicide.

The jury also declined to indict any of the four other people living
with Helriggle in the Lanier Twp. farmhouse on any charges stemming
from a marijuana-trafficking warrant served by the special police
squad when officers stormed Helriggle's house on Sept. 27 in a heavily
armed raid.

"It's heartbreaking and a tragedy, but the (legal) focus (into
criminal wrongdoing) is very narrow," said Suzanne Schmidt, first
assistant to Greene County Prosecutor William Schenck, who was called
in to handle the investigation.

Schmidt said the Greene County prosecutor's staff "did the best we
could do. No stone was left unturned."

Police said that tips from informants about drug sales and armed men
at the house, on Ohio 503 south of West Alexandria, led them to call
in Preble County Sheriff's Emergency Services Unit to serve a search
warrant issued on Sept. 27 by Eaton Municipal Judge Paul Henry.

Preble County's Emergency Services Unit, with 15 officers from four
departments across Preble County, had special training to handle water
rescues, hostage negotiations and other high-risk situations. The
unit, however, rarely had been used to serve search warrants, Sheriff
Thomas Hayes said.

In announcing the grand jury's decision Tuesday, Schenck said the case
is "far from over." Helriggle's relatives told him they intend to seek
relief in a civil court and possibly through an FBI investigation,
Schenck said.

Schenck was named special prosecutor on Oct. 9 by Preble County
Prosecutor Rebecca Ferguson after Preble County Sheriff Thomas Hayes
turned the investigation of the shooting over to Montgomery County
Sheriff Dave Vore.

"I have a lot of feeling about this case since becoming involved,"
Schenck said after he discussed the grand jury's decision in private
with Helriggle's parents, brother, aunt and girlfriend. "What I feel
is sadness."

Schenck said the grand jury based its decision based on the testimony
of 60 witnesses and hundreds of exhibits presented in a six day during
the past three weeks.

"Does this dispose of the case? No," Schenck said.

In a civil case instead of a criminal case, he said, "(a court) looks
at other issues and imposes a lighter burden on proving a case. It's
far from over."

Schenck said it was "a hard case. I shed some tears because I had to
tell a family their son has been killed and this isn't the way" to
find the answers of "what went wrong."

Helriggle's father, Michael, said that while he believed the
Montgomery County Sheriff's Office investigation was thorough, he was
not surprised by the grand jury's outcome.

"This is what I expected," he said. "They said there was no evidence
to prove anybody did anything wrong."

The Montgomery County Sheriff's Officehas not publicly released the
findings of its investigation. Sgt. Ed Copher, the detective in charge
of the investigation, said he had no comment following the grand
jury's decision.

The Preble County Sheriff's Emergency Services Unit attempted to serve
a search warrant at 6:47 p.m. Sept. 27. According to a Preble County
Sheriff's Office report, the officers broke through the doors and
subdued three of Helriggle's roommates inside the house.

Helriggle, sleeping upstairs, was awakened by a flash-bang grenade and
battering rams used by the police. He was coming down a back stairway
when Sgt. Kent S. Moore felled Helriggle with a shotgun blast to his

Moore, a decorated officer with the Lewisburg Police Department, also
is a weapons instructor and team leader with the Preble County
Sheriff's Emergency Services Unit. Moore, who could not be reached for
comment Tuesday, claimed Helriggle carried a gun, while Helriggle's
roommates maintained he carried a blue cup.

The search warrant, ordered sealed by Judge Paul Henry after the
shooting, is expected to made public this morning. Findings from the
Montgomery County Sheriff's Office investigation also might be
available today, Schenck said.

"I'd turn them over (now), but Montgomery County wants to check with
its civil attorneys to see if they can be turned over," Schenck said

The Helriggles want FBI agents to investigate their son's death, based
on their belief that his civil rights were violated.

U.S. Attorney Greg Lockhart said it was premature to comment on
whether the case could be reviewed by the Federal Bureau of

"Any time there's a claim raised that police used excessive or illegal
force, they are permitted to file a request with the FBI to look into
it. Those investigations are done by the civil rights department of
the Justice Department and FBI. My best understanding is the FBI
likely will look at it," Lockhart said Tuesday.

Even if there would be a federal investigation, there's no guarantee
of criminal charges being pursued. In the majority of similar civil
rights cases, complaints are reviewed but no charges are filed,
Lockhart said.

"The officer would have to intentionally have used force to deny a
person's human rights. There's more opportunity to move forward with
this sort of case in a civil setting," Lockhart said.

Preble County Sheriff Thomas Hayes, who was not at the farmhouse the
night of the raid, said Tuesday night he's "glad it's over with."

He said his emergency services unit is "on hold because of my budget."
Hayes said he is "getting ready to get with Montgomery County"
sheriff's officials to help with mutual aid should a need for a
special police squad arise.

Vore, the Montgomery County sheriff, could not be reached for comment.
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