Neb. police fatally shoot man with knife lunging at woman

By Lynn Safranek
Omaha World-Herald
Copyright 2007 The Omaha World-Herald Company

A crazed Omaha man was lunging with a large knife at a woman when an Omaha police officer shot and killed him Wednesday, Police Chief Thomas Warren said today.

Officer Jerry Kassen fired a single gunshot at Robert Ventry, 20, in the right side of the chest, killing him, Warren said.

Police encountered Ventry three weeks ago in a similar episode. He was high on drugs, hit twice with a Taser, subdued and taken to a hospital.

Wednesday night, police began getting calls at 6:34 p.m. from the neighborhood just south of the intersection of Sorensen Parkway and Fontenelle Boulevard, when a caller at 4217 Camden Ave. reported a disturbance there.

The shooting ended a chaotic spree in which Ventry broke out windows at two or more homes, broke into two other homes, assaulted a man with a frying pan and ran through the neighborhood near 42nd Street and Camden Avenue naked in frigid temperatures, according to police and witness accounts.

At a press conference today, Warren said the shooting at 4131 Camden Ave. was a justified use of deadly force.

"Officers are authorized by law to use deadly force in defense of their own life or in defense of someone else's life," he said.

Someone called 911 at 6:38 p.m. to report someone was breaking windows at 4207 Camden Ave.

Two minutes later, Joyce Dennis at 4205 Camden Ave. called to report someone broke a window at her house as well.

Dennis said she first noticed the man banging frantically on one of her bedroom windows.

Before she could find out what was happening, she said, "he broke through. He busted the top half of my window."

Dennis said the man started yelling for help: "Call 911! Call 911! Someone's trying to kill me!"

He sounded frantic, she said, "like he was running for his life. It didn't sound like he wanted to come in here. It sounded like he wanted the police."

Dennis called 911. An operator told her that someone else in her neighborhood already had called about the man.

The 911 operators also were called by Margaret Coates, 81, and her son, Harold Coates.

Harold Coates said he was in the kitchen opening a case of beer when Ventry banged on the back door of the home at 4215 Camden Ave. His mother was standing next to him.

Ventry burst in the house, exclaimed, "Don't let them shoot me," and lay down on the floor of the kitchen. Harold Coates said he jumped on top of him and tried to subdue him. But Ventry tossed him off, Coates said.

After stripping naked, Ventry began throwing things around the house. He tossed a cell phone through a window. With one hand, he tipped an oak dining room table over like "it was nothing," Coates said.

At one point, Ventry grabbed a frying pan off the stove and hit Coates on the head with it.

Ventry was naked the entire time. "I've never seen anybody that crazy," Coates said.

Eventually, Coates said, Ventry grabbed his clothes and left out the back door, running naked out into the 14-degree night.

Harold Coates needed stitches, and both eyes were swollen from the struggle. His mother has a knot above her eye, too.

Omaha police encountered Ventry at 4131 Camden Ave.  — a house owned by Debra Murry, 28.

She and her brother, Terrence, 20, were at home with her daughter DeJeune, 5, and her sister's two children, Devon, 10, and DeAdre, 8, when the man forced his way into the home.

According to Chief Warren, this is what happened next:

Four officers, including Officers Jerry Kassen and Jeffrey Wasmund, went to the house. As they arrived in the area, they learned that Ventry possibly was armed with a knife and appeared to be under the influence of drugs.

Witnesses told officers that Ventry was "hallucinating" and "delusional" and threatening to kill people inside the residence, Warren said. While at Murry's house, he took clothing from someone and put it on.

As the officers entered through a side door, Warren said, they "could hear screaming and yelling inside the residence, and they announced their presence."

Kassen reached the kitchen, and he saw a woman backing up toward him. She looked at Kassen and pointed at the intruder.

Kassen saw Ventry advance toward the woman holding a large knife in his right hand.

He yelled at Ventry to drop the knife, but Ventry lunged at the woman "as if he was about to stab her," Warren said.

Kassen fired one shot at Ventry, who then fell to the floor.

Wasmund, who reached the kitchen with Kassen, used a Taser on Ventry almost at the same time that Ventry was shot.

On the floor, Ventry refused to obey officers' commands to put his hands behind his back, and he began crawling across the floor. The officers struggled, but eventually handcuffed Ventry.

Ventry, who was shot once, was taken to Creighton University Medical Center, where he died less than an hour later.

Kassen, a four-year police veteran, has been placed on administrative duty while police investigate to determine whether proper policy procedures were followed.

Under state law, a grand jury will be called to review the shooting for criminal wrongdoing by the officers.

Ventry, who has a long list of minor run-ins with Omaha police, may have had a history of drug use, Warren said.

Autopsy and toxicology results will be used to confirm whether Ventry was under the influence of drugs Wednesday, he said.

But his behavior, which Warren described as "extremely erratic and aggressive," would suggest he was high on PCP  — an addictive, illegal drug that distorts perceptions of sight and sound and can cause people to hallucinate.

When someone is under the influence of PCP, Warren said, using a Taser to subdue the person is ineffective. He also said the drug causes a person's body temperature to rise, which could explain why Ventry disrobed.

Debra's cousin Javon Murry said none of the Murrys who were in the house where the shooting occurred was injured. He said Debra's sister, Keisha Murry, 29, took all three of the children home with her later Wednesday night.

Full story: ...

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