Ohio officer in deadly raid 'felt threatened'
By John Seewer
LIMA, Ohio — A white police officer told jurors Thursday he thought his life was in danger when he shot at an unarmed black woman during a drug raid, killing her and injuring the 1-year-old boy she held in her arms.
Sgt. Joseph Chavalia testified that he saw a shadow coming from behind a partially open bedroom door as he walked upstairs at the house of a suspected drug dealer. He said he heard gunshots, flinched and pointed his gun toward the door.
"There was absolutely, positively no doubt in my mind right then and there that whoever this was is shooting at me. They're trying to kill me," Chavalia said.
Chavalia told jurors that he now knows the gunfire he heard was coming from downstairs, where other officers shot two charging pit bulls.
Shots from Chavalia's gun killed 26-year-old Tarika Wilson and set off protests and debate about race relations in this northwest Ohio city, where one in four residents is black.
Wilson's mother sat on the edge of her seat during the testimony, but she got up and left the courtroom just before Chavalia described what happened when he shot her daughter.
Chavalia has pleaded not guilty to misdemeanor counts of negligent homicide and negligent assault. He faces up to eight months in jail if convicted of both counts. An all-white jury was selected Monday with a black woman and a white woman as alternates.
Chavalia appeared nervous at times during his nearly three-hour testimony, although his voice remained steady. He never mentioned Wilson by name, often referring to her as "the human."
"I knew I shot a human as soon as I pulled the trigger," he said.
Under questioning by Prosecutor Jeffrey Strausbaugh, Chavalia said he never saw Wilson's hands or face and didn't know if she had a weapon. He said his line of sight was limited when he fired and he had no idea Wilson's six children were in the bedroom.
An investigator with the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification and Investigation testified Tuesday that Chavalia was about 5 feet away from Wilson when he shot her, striking her in the neck and chest.
Her son, Sincere Wilson, was hit in the shoulder and hand. One of the boy's fingers was later amputated.
Tarika Wilson's family has said she was an innocent bystander when officers burst in looking for her boyfriend, Anthony Terry, during the Jan. 4 raid.
Chavalia's defense attorney has blamed Terry for putting his girlfriend in the line of fire. Terry pleaded guilty in March to charges of drug trafficking.
A retired FBI agent who now frequently testifies on behalf of police officers accused in shootings said Thursday that Chavalia made the right decision because he thought his life was in danger.
"We know this wasn't the case," Urey Patrick told jurors. "We have to look at this from the point of the officer."
He also said that the shots fired by other officers at the pit bulls were literally right below where Wilson was in the bedroom.
"I can understand why Sgt. Chavalia thought those shots were coming from the bedroom," Patrick said.
The trial was scheduled to resume Monday.
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