Tracknum: 24802.
Pubdate: Sun, 29 Jun 2003
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2003 Dayton Daily News
Author: Cathy Mon
Bookmarks: (Drug Raids) (Clayton Helriggle)


A Deadly Raid

Shooting Prompts Questions About Lack of Training, Poor Planning, And
an Encounter at an Eaton Bar

EATON - After an evening of heavy drinking on Sept. 17, off-duty Preble 
County sheriff's Deputy Terry Petitt flirted with a group of men half her 
age at the 230 Club in downtown Eaton, paying special attention to 
23-year-old Clayton Helriggle, witnesses said.

"(Petitt) wanted us to touch the hole in her jeans," located in the upper 
thigh area, Tim Suter, a high school classmate of Helriggle's who was at 
the bar that night, later told investigators.

Petitt, 44, "really took a liking to Clayton," Suter said.

Before Petitt threw up into a wastebasket and was taken home, Suter said, 
she hugged and kissed the three men at the far end of the bar -- Suter, 
Helriggle and his roommate Ian Albert -- and exchanged sexual banter.

Petitt told the group "she was getting divorced," Suter said. "She 
mentioned she had a son our age -- the age thing was an issue. She could 
teach us young (guys) a few things."

Ten days later, on Sept. 27, Helriggle lay dead in an ill-fated drug raid 
led by Petitt's husband, Detective George Petitt Jr., 54, then commander of 
the Preble County Emergency Services Unit. Terry Petitt, too, was in on the 
raid, assigned to guard the perimeter of the house at 1282 Ohio 503, south 
of West Alexandria.

Minutes after the shooting, Terry Petitt trained her weapon on a 
blood-soaked Albert, in whose arms Helriggle died inside the house.

Terry and George Petitt have not commented about the events of Sept. 27, 
and the days leading up to it. But an 800-page supplemental report of more 
than 50 interviews by the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office special 
investigations unit, reveals previously undisclosed details about the scope 
of the failed planning and execution that resulted in Helriggle's death.

Members of the main entry team had just four hours of tactical training in 
the nine months leading up to the raid. Others at the Helriggle farmhouse 
that evening had never trained with the team, and found themselves in 
unfamiliar roles as the plan changed during the critical early moments. The 
information used to obtain a search warrant was largely based on overheard 
conversations, a few hours of surveillance and the word of a convicted 
felon who had recently lied to a court to remain free on bond.

One expert said more small, rural police departments, using mostly 
inexperienced and largely untrained officers, are practicing a dangerous 
game: urban, guerilla-like warfare. He calls it the "militarizing of Mayberry."

"(Preble's unit) certainly fits the dangers of jumping into something like 
this with no real training," said Peter B. Kraska, a University of Eastern 
Kentucky criminal justice professor.

The use of special weapons teams to force their way into private residences 
"should occur only when you have overwhelming evidence that this is a large 
drug operation and the people inside are known to be armed and dangerous," 
Kraska said. "That kind of situation comes up very infrequently; hardly 
ever in small communities."

A grand jury concluded that no police officer engaged in criminal 
wrongdoing, nor did any of Helriggle's four roommates. A Montgomery County 
sheriff's investigation also determined that Helriggle had a gun -- not a 
plastic cup as a witness first claimed -- when he descended the stairs 
during the commotion of the raid.

But an administrative review has been launched of the mistakes that 
contributed to the fatal shooting, and the victim's family is pursuing 
legal action.

Investigators also examined whether George Petitt had a hidden motive for 
pursuing a drug raid at the Helriggle house: his wife's friendliness toward 
Helriggle on Sept. 17 at the 230 Club.

During a Nov. 1 interview with Montgomery County sheriff's investigators, 
Terry Petitt acknowledged being at the 230 Club but initially denied having 
any "contact" with Helriggle.

Later, in the same interview, she said she knew Helriggle was at the bar 
and recognized Albert when he was led from the house the night of the 

Montgomery County Sheriff's Detective Greg Laravie then asked: "At any time 
did you discuss what happened in the 230 Club with your husband as far as 
seeing Clayton Helriggle?"

"Absolutely," she said. "He knew all about it."

"Did he know about it prior to the search warrant?" Laravie asked.

"I don't know," she said. ". . . I'm not sure if George and I were 
separated at that time or not. I don't recall."

In his interview with sheriff's detectives Nov. 12, George Petitt Jr. said 
he knew nothing about his wife's encounter with Helriggle during the 
planning stages for the raid.

"I was unaware that my wife was even at the bar until after the search 
warrant was issued and conducted, and the other part about holes in the 
pants or something, this is my first knowledge I have about that at all."

Details of the Search Warrant

The informant said Kevin Leitch was planning yet another burglary.

Leitch, 21, was well known to Officer Jeff Cotner, Eaton's only detective, 
and Cotner spent hours looking for him before spotting his car on Sinclair 
Street in Eaton about 12:30 a.m. Sept. 26.

Leitch was free on bail and awaiting sentencing on more than a dozen 
residential burglaries in the county. The informant said Leitch and an 
accomplice were planning another heist, this time at an old farmhouse that 
four young men and one girlfriend were renting at 1282 Ohio 503.

The house was said to contain 10 to 15 pounds of marijuana every weekend, 
according to the informant.

Hours before pulling Leitch over, Cotner enlisted the help of Preble County 
sheriff's Detective George Petitt Jr., who often assisted in city 
investigations. As Cotner patrolled the streets looking for Leitch, Petitt 
conducted surveillance on the farmhouse.

Cotner searched Leitch's car and found two rifles and a handgun, all of 
them stolen. A passenger in the car, 18-year-old Samantha "Sammie" Webster, 
was released and never questioned by Preble County officials. Sammie was 
the younger sister of Tasha Webster, who lived at the farmhouse with her 
boyfriend, Wesley Bradley.

After he was arrested and booked into the Preble County Jail, Leitch told 
Cotner he drove Webster to the farmhouse twice that week to buy small 
quantities of marijuana. He told the detective the house included up to 12 
people, two to three dogs and "pounds and pounds of marijuana," Cotner 
recalled to sheriff's investigators.

Cotner said he believed Leitch, even though he was seeking to revoke his 
bond after learning he had lied to the court about pursuing classes at 
Sinclair Community College and caring for his infirmed grandfather.

"Surprisingly, I consider Leitch real reliable to the way he has confessed 
his life away," Cotner told investigators. "He trusts me like you wouldn't 

Meanwhile, George Petitt was parked at the American Legion on Ohio 503 and 
watching traffic go in and out of the nearby farmhouse property. Another 
officer was parked nearby.

"(Petitt's) impression right off," Cotner told investigators, was that 
"'this is a dope house, just by the activity.' "

Petitt told investigators: "I'd see cars coming and going. I'd pull out to 
attempt to get a license plate number. From where I was sitting, I wasn't 
able to really observe the house but simply the flow of traffic in and out 
of that property."

Although Petitt was in charge of planning the raid, he told investigators 
he didn't have first-hand knowledge of anyone selling marijuana from the house.

Nor did he know who had allegedly bought any drugs there.

"Was there any marijuana in evidence that was placed in your evidence room 
or Eaton police evidence room that was purchased in one of these buys?" 
Detective Laravie asked him.

"Not to my knowledge," Petitt said.

Helriggle, 23, awakened by all the commotion and armed with a handgun, 
peeled down the back stairs.

George Petitt III then saw 42-year-old ESU Team Leader Kent S. Moore, a 
Lewisburg police sergeant, fall over on his butt as if he'd been shot.

"At that time, I was not sure if he was hit or not," Petitt III told 
investigators. "I didn't know what caused him to go to the ground that fast 
and then within an instant or a second is when I seen him in a control 
fashion, lift the shotgun up and fire the shot."

 From a crouching position, Moore fired a single shot to Helriggle's chest, 
killing him.

"I saw (Helriggle) slumped over," Petitt III said. "He was on the ground."

Moore, who still wasn't sure if he'd been wounded, stood and joined other 
officers as they made their way through the house. Medics examined the 
officer later and found him unharmed.

The raid was over in less than two minutes.

Among the first on the scene were Michael and Sharon Helriggle, Clayton 
Helriggle's parents, who heard the call for Care Flight on their home scanner.

Preble County Prosecutor's Investigator Dave Lindloff, also the assistant 
coroner, began video recording the scene minutes after the shooting.

On the tape, obtained by the Dayton Daily News, a cell phone is heard and a 
dispatcher announces the time as Lindloff approaches the back door. It is 
7:08 p.m.

Lindloff then announces that he ordered Lewisburg paramedic Kenny Pierce 
and James Williams, a Lewisburg police officer, to "stay exactly with the 
body till we can take control of the situation."

Stepping into the kitchen, Lindloff focuses the camera on a somber-faced 
Pierce, who is kneeling. Pierce, who was on call outside the house before 
the raid, was brought into the house to assist shortly after Helriggle was 

Before the shooting, Helriggle's roommate, Ian Albert, had been ordered to 
the floor at the base of the kitchen stairs by police. After the shooting, 
Albert pulled his friend down to him and applied pressure to the wound.

Pierce arrived and cut Helriggle's blood-soaked blue T-shirt from his body 
and applied a tourniquet -- too late to help him -- to Helriggle's right arm.

The camera scans the stairs, stopping on the fifth step where the handgun 
Helriggle carried, rests. A slipper is on the sixth step.

Lindloff scans the kitchen, showing the doorway leading to the bathroom.

He ends the tape by ordering officers to "stay at the back door to be sure 
no one comes in, either."

Later, as dark descended, Preble County Assistant Dog Warden Lee Richardson 
was called to lock up the loose dogs so the dead man's body could be 
removed from the kitchen. When Richardson shone his flashlight on the 
table, the shadows revealed two dogs, guarding, prone at Helriggle's side.

Unit Disbanded

Sheriff Hayes disbanded the Emergency Services Unit shortly after the 
shooting, citing financial constraints.

Hayes also relegated Detective Petitt to road patrol after he was observed 
in November spending work hours at the American Legion and falsifying time 
cards. Petitt did not return to work and retired on medical disability 
March 28.

Terry Petitt told investigators that the couple had reconciled shortly 
before the shooting, but split up again a month later.

"I have had little contact with him since Oct. 22," she told investigators.

Kristi Deaton, a Preble County corrections officer who accompanied Terry 
Petitt and Camden Mayor Jerry Wood to the 230 Club on Sept. 17, told 
investigators she drank Pepsi throughout the evening but that Petitt was 
"highly intoxicated."

At one point, she said, Petitt brought Helriggle over to where she and Wood 
were sitting. "She just introduced him as Clayton, and she had made the 
comment that, 'did you know he could be my son?' " Deaton said.

Although Deaton noted she may have seen Petitt hug Helriggle, "It wasn't 
anything emotional," she said. "It was just . . . when friends get together 
and you give them a hug and stuff like that."

Deaton said she never questioned Petitt about her behavior that night.

"I figured she's a big girl," Deaton said. "She knows what she's doing. If 
she wants to flirt, then she can flirt. If she wants to chat with them she 

After the shooting, Hayes called in the Montgomery County special 
investigations unit, which spent 4 1/2 months interviewing dozens of 
witnesses. The report was turned over to Greene County prosecutors, who 
presented the case to a grand jury. The grand jury declined to indict 
anybody in connection with the raid, which netted a small amount of marijuana.

Hayes also asked Montgomery County Sheriff Dave Vore to conduct an internal 
administrative review into the events leading up to the raid and its fatal 
consequences, including the amount of training for officers and the 
issuance of search warrants.

Sgt. John Brands said his special services unit will not make 
recommendations to Hayes, "but we'll point out issues we came across. It 
will be up to Preble County to make decisions on anything they want to do."

The Helriggle family said it plans to file a civil lawsuit and hired James 
Swaim of Dayton and David Ewing of Louisville, Ky., as its legal counsel.

Helriggle's mother, Sharon, said her son's death remains fresh, his memory 

"I always think of him," she said. "He's never off my mind, first thing 
getting up or when I'm up in the middle of the night pacing the house. It 
doesn't go away. It doesn't get any better."

She said she doesn't blame the man who shot her son. "I never had any 
hatred in my heart for him. But someone should have said, 'whoa,' and 
stopped it. There was no rush."

Sgt. Moore, the Lewisburg officer who fired the fatal shotgun blast and who 
was placed on desk duty after the raid, returned to his job as a supervisor 
in February.

In his interview with investigators, Moore gave a vivid account of the 
chaotic seconds when he heard Helriggle on the stairs saying, "What the 
(expletive) is going on down here?" and holding a gun in his right hand 
"with his finger in the trigger guard."

"Do you feel that you were in imminent danger of your life when you 
discharged your service weapon?" Detective Rick Ward asked him.

"Yes, he was going to kill me," Moore said.

The raid changed how some officers view their jobs.

Greg McWhinney, a former corrections officer who had been a full-time 
sheriff's road deputy only four months when he was deployed to the 
Helriggle house, told investigators the trip from the farmhouse after the 
shooting was "dead freaking silence."

"That is the first one of those I had ever seen and I will be honest: I 
felt like puking my guts out," McWhinney said.

For others, the raid became a dim memory, best forgotten.

"I have kind of put it out of my mind for so long now that some of the 
details are a bit sketchy," George Petitt III, the detective's son who 
watched Helriggle die, told investigators two months after the shooting.

"It's not something I try and dwell on. I'm trying to move on from it 
because it wasn't pretty."

He added: "There isn't anything about it I'm proud of in any way."