02/07/2001

Teen shot by police had troubling year
[Omaha, NE]

CHRIS OLSON, JOE DEJKA
February 2, 2001, Friday Sunrise Edition
Copyright 2001 The Omaha World-Herald Company
Omaha World-Herald
February 2, 2001, Friday Sunrise Edition

(OMAHA, Neb.) -- Jason Witt has struggled over the last year.

His principal said Witt was having trouble at school - mostly truancy and smoking violations - and was hanging out with the wrong crowd.

In June, the 16-year-old's parents divorced. By early fall, he was in Juvenile Court on charges of theft, criminal mischief and third-degree assault. In December, his stepfather was found slain on a south Omaha street.

And about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, just a few weeks after the teen requested grief counseling at Papillion-LaVista High School, Witt allegedly pulled a loaded .40-caliber Smith & Wesson handgun from the waistband of his pants and pointed it at police officers.

Witt was shot twice by one officer and remained in critical condition late Thursday at St. Joseph Hospital.

Authorities weren't offering a lot of specifics, noting that an investigation was under way, but some details emerged Thursday.

Two probation officers, suspecting that Witt might have violated his probation by possessing drugs, had asked three police officers - from the LaVista and Papillion Departments - to join them at the apartment Witt shares with his mother, Brenda Schumacher, at 8134 S. 88th Plaza. Police officers often accompany probation officers if an arrest is to be made or evidence is to be seized.

At first, Witt stood in his bedroom and talked with the officers. Then, as he was about to be handcuffed and arrested, he pulled the handgun and "made an aggressive move," according to the officers.

At that point, LaVista Police Officer John Danderand fired his revolver twice - striking Witt in the neck and in the right side of his abdomen.

On Thursday, investigators had not ruled out filing charges against Danderand, but Sarpy County Attorney Lee Polikov said his initial impression is that the officer's actions were "appropriate."

Still, Polikov said an investigation is continuing. And he cautioned that authorities are not just investigating Danderand, but probing the entire incident.

Witt's mother declined a request for an interview.(7)

Witt had received counseling last month. His stepfather, Todd Schumacher, 35, was found shot to death Dec. 5 outside his home at 2907 Q St.

Two men have been charged with burglarizing Schumacher's house the day he was killed, but no one has been charged in the slaying.

"I understand that has been troubling the boy," Polikov said.

Schumacher had been Witt's stepfather since the boy was 3.

"Jason likes to live on the edge," said Principal Jim Glover, who worked with the youth last year at LaVista Junior High School and this year at Papillion-LaVista High School, where he is known as Jason Schumacher.

But truancy and use of tobacco had been the extent of Witt's delinquency on school grounds, Glover said.

Glover said Witt, a sophomore, has few friends and is involved in no school activities, Glover said.

"I think Jason knew that at some point his activities at night and on weekends could lead to something like this," Glover said. "We discussed what could happen if this continued."

The officer who shot Witt probably acted within the law, Polikov said, but final judgment will have to wait until a multiagency team completes its investigation.

"It's way premature, but there's not been anything to follow up on that there was any inappropriate use of force," Polikov said.

"If something develops that indicates a violation of the law, we'll pursue it."

Two LaVista officers and a Papillion officer Danderand and Bryan Waugh--and a Papillion officer-- Brad Kustka--(7) have been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of external and internal investigations.

Polikov said there was no indication that the loaded gun that Witt allegedly pulled was fired.

The visit by the officers appears to have been routine, Polikov said. Witt is required as a condition of his probation from Juvenile Court offenses to submit to spot checks, as well as random drug and alcohol tests.

Polikov said unarmed probation officers are not ordinarily accompanied by police officers when checking out suspected probation violations.

However, in this case, they may have requested a police presence because of information about possible drug violations, in anticipation of the need to collect evidence, Polikov said.

"I don't think they anticipated there was going to be any force used," he said.

When officers first encountered Witt, they did not search him for weapons, Polikov said.

Principal Glover said he was not surprised that Witt would have a gun but was disappointed that the youth pulled the weapon on the officers.

Witt's previous trouble with the law peaked in September and October, when a series of incidents left him facing charges in Sarpy County Juvenile Court.

Court records indicate he had been expelled from school for 19 days.

He pleaded guilty to third-degree assault for allegedly assaulting his mother. He also pleaded guilty to charges of theft, criminal mischief and truancy.

In November, a judge ordered him kept in Sarpy County sheriff's custody for evaluation, including a psychological evaluation.

The following month, Juvenile Court Judge Bob O'Neal ordered that Witt reside in his mother's home, under intensive-supervision probation. The order included Witt's wearing an electronic monitoring device for 90 days.

O'Neal ordered Witt to attend school, improve his studies and participate in a recreational or school activity. Witt also would have to take all prescribed medications, complete 75 hours of community service and pay restitution.

The judge ordered that Witt complete, at his expense, a drug and alcohol education program.

The order included the possibility that the teen could be placed in a juvenile-detention facility if he tampered with the electronic monitoring device, posed a threat to himself or others, or if he was likely to leave the area.

While he was being monitored, Witt was only to leave the house for school and school activities, work, counseling, probation activities or for limited recreation with his parents.

A review of the probation in early January found that Witt was doing "relatively well" at home. The judge continued the probation but ordered that an application be made to place the teen in a residential facility.

Glover, who was aware of Witt's probationary status, said that even more than most teens, the youth was trying to make too many adult decisions for his age.

"Jason felt he could make his own decisions and not follow rules," Glover said. "I always felt he was 15 going on 30."

Back to previous page