Mo. officer won't be charged in fatal shooting of unarmed, mentally ill man


Copyright 2006 St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Inc. 

The Ste. Genevieve police officer who fatally shot an unarmed, mentally ill man in his home will not be prosecuted for the Nov. 3 shooting, a spokesman for Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon said Saturday.

Ste. Genevieve Police Chief Dale Newman said he would not discuss details of the shooting until his office had been officially informed that Officer Michael J. Coon, 33, had been cleared of wrongdoing in the shooting of Dennis P. Heberlie III, 47.

Newman said that Coon had been on paid administrative leave since the shooting and that the officer probably would be reinstated soon and placed on medical leave.

Newman said that Coon still was suffering from "pretty extensive back injury" and that Heberlie "beat him pretty good."

The Missouri Highway Patrol and a special prosecutor at the attorney general's office investigated the shooting after requests from local police and Ste. Genevieve County prosecutor Carl Kinsky.

In a prepared statement, Nixon called Heberlie's death "tragic " but said, "We do not believe that criminal charges could be successfully prosecuted in this matter."

However, an attorney for the dead man's family said Coon had had no justification to shoot Heberlie.

According to a 12-page summary of the shooting by the Missouri Highway Patrol, Heberlie's confrontation with police started earlier that night because he was bothering a gas station attendant.

Heberlie visited the station at least twice every day, the attendant later told police, and on the night of the shooting Heberlie dropped by nine times, gave her flowers and offered to take her to Las Vegas. Heberlie, a paranoid schizophrenic, told the attendant that he had a stick that he could use to control clouds and that he worked with the FBI.

Heberlie also was welcoming customers at the station because, the attendant told police, he believed that he could transfer his good luck to others by shaking their hands.

Responding to the phone call from the attendant's boyfriend, Coon arrived at the gas station about 10:30 p.m. The officer approached Heberlie, who quickly jumped into his red Pontiac Sunfire and told Coon, "Gotta go."

Coon got into his squad car and pursued Heberlie. Another Ste. Genevieve officer joined the chase and later told investigators that Heberlie had tried to run him off the road. Police lost track of Heberlie, but Coon tracked him by his license plates to the mobile home he shared with his mother outside the city limits.

According to the official account, Coon knocked on the trailer's door and Heberlie's niece opened it. Heberlie tried to close the door, but Coon forced it open, and the two men began to struggle in the dark. Coon said Heberlie had punched him twice in the face and pummeled him on the back. Coon told investigators that he had fired his .40-caliber Glock semiautomatic pistol because Heberlie had beaten him to the floor and was hovering over him. The single gun shot hit Heberlie in the chest.

A Ste. Genevieve sheriff's deputy who had accompanied Coon confirmed the officer's account, the report states. The deputy was rushing to aid Coon when the shot was fired, the report says.

But Heberlie's sister and niece also witnessed the shooting and tell a different story, said Malcolm Montgomery, a criminal defense attorney hired by the dead man's relatives. Montgomery, of Cape Girardeau, said Heberlie's sister and niece said that the shooting was unprovoked and that Heberlie was trying to flee from, rather than attack, the officer.

Montgomery questions not just the use of deadly force, but also the reason why police wanted to confront Heberlie, who before the car chase was not suspected of breaking any law. Montgomery said Coon also ignored proper police procedure for leaving his jurisdiction and by forcing entry into Heberlie's home without a warrant.

Montgomery also criticized Nixon's office.

"The family believes this is a stupefying abuse of discretion on the part of the attorney general's office," Montgomery said. "This decision means if you have a uniform on, you can do anything without fear of prosecution."

Montgomery said he intended to file a federal lawsuit against the city of Ste. Genevieve, Ste. Genevieve County, Coon and the sheriff's deputy for violating Heberlie's civil rights. 
January 22, 2006

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