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Officer cleared, but won’t return
Officer cleared, but won’t return
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
CHARDON – A police officer did his job and it cost him.
Chardon Sgt. Russell White was cleared of any wrongdoing in the March 29 shooting death of a 28-year-old man in a special prosecutor’s report released last week. The trauma the officer experienced as a result of the incident, however, will keep him from returning to work.
“The sad thing is we’re losing a good officer over this,” Police Chief Timothy McKenna said last week.
Mr. White served in the Chardon department for 16 years and worked 25 years as an officer, serving with the Russell Police Department and the Geauga County Sheriff’s Department prior to joining Chardon.
It’s going to be difficult to replace an experienced officer of Mr. White’s caliber, Mr. McKenna said.
The report released last week by Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins concluded that Mr. White was forced to take deadly action in self-defense against Ryan Sever of Chardon in the early morning hours of March 29.
“Although the shooting incident was not witnessed, the evidence, statements and totality of the circumstances established in this investigation showed that Sgt. Russell White acted in self-defense when he shot Ryan Sever,” the report stated. “Clearly, this officer was doing his duty and, though facing darkness and being alone, still proceeded at his own risk to do his job and make a peaceful arrest.
“Then in a matter of seconds, he faced a sudden, unprovoked attack by an assailant who came directly at him with a deadly weapon, which left him no choice but to protect himself by his use of deadly force, which was justified and reasonable on his part.”
Mr. Sever’s actions that night, according to the report, were consistent with the characteristics of “suicide by cop” as he approached the officer with a knife and said, “Just shoot me.”
The report details that day’s and the previous day’s events that led to the tragic outcome. It began chronicling Mr. Sever’s actions March 28. The day began with Mr. Sever going to Painesville to cash an $800 federal Pell grant check and purchasing beer.
Mr. Sever, according to the report, returned to his Chardon Avenue home, where he drank beer throughout the evening. At about 2:30 a.m. the next morning, he awoke his girlfriend and said he wanted to go to Walmart.
The couple got into an argument about money at the shopping center parking lot, which continued as the pair returned home. The also argued about his drinking.
“Mandy (his girlfriend) was sitting on the couch with her son when Ryan picked up a coffee table and threw it at her,” the report stated. “Ryan then attacked her by punching and choking her. These injuries are noted in photographs. Sever then goes to the kitchen and grabs a steak knife and tries to stab her while she is holding the child.”
Mr. Sever’s mother, Victoria Sever, called police at 3:14 to report reporting that her son was attacking his girlfriend with a knife. Mr. Sever threw down the knife, said “what knife?” and walked out of the home.
Three Chardon officers responded to the home, with one remaining there and two, including Mr. White, going out into the neighborhood to look for Mr. Sever, the report stated. At 3:57:43, the dash cam video on Sgt. White’s cruiser showed a male subject walking in front of his cruiser in a residential area. White recognized him from past dealings.
Audio recordings catch Mr. White exiting his vehicle and calling to Mr. Sever.
“Forty seconds later, three gun shots are heard,” the report stated.
Mr. White radioed that there was one down, shots had been fired and an ambulance was needed. Mr. Sever died at the scene, according to the report.
The report stated that Mr. White knew his attacker that night from previous criminal complaints and spoke with him in public on several occasions. It also reported that Mr. White was aware that night of Mr. Sever’s intoxication and his actions in the home, as well as that he carried a folding knife with a 3-inch blade.
“White thought he could just talk to Sever due to his past dealings with him,” the report stated. “He also stated that he saw both of his (Sever’s) hands as he walked by and did not see a weapon.
“White said Sever was talking to himself as he was walking away, saying, ‘Don’t do it, don’t do it.’ White tried talking to him to get him to stop. Sever stops and lets out a ‘God awful groan.’ White then sees one hand go up to his neck. Sever then turns toward him (and), at this time, White says they are about 10 feet apart. He can see a knife in Sever’s hand up to his throat.
“White draws his service weapon and tells Sever to drop the knife. At this point, White says his demeanor changed. Sever then brings the knife down to his side and starts walking toward White. While moving forward, White is retreating and Sever keeps saying, “Just shoot me.”
Despite the officer’s orders for him to drop the knife, Mr. Sever continued toward the officer, the report stated. “I shot three times until his forward movement stopped,” the officer is quoted as saying.
The knife was recovered alongside Mr. Sever’s body.
Toxicology reports from the Cuyahoga County Coroner’s Office showed that Mr. Sever had a blood-alcohol reading of 0.213, more than two times the legal limit. Three gunshots wounds pierced his right lung, heart and liver. A knife wound to Mr. Sever’s neck was noted.
The report also noted that Mr. Sever had a long criminal history, starting with inducing panic in a school in 2000 and aggravated menacing and domestic violence. It noted he was charged with domestic violence after striking his father on Father’s Day.
Sgt. White’s record showed an officer who received numerous accommodation letters, including one from the U.S. Secret Service.
“Therefore,” the report concluded, “although Ryan Sever’s true motive may never be known in this tragedy, under the totality of the known objective facts and circumstances, I conclude Sgt. White shot Ryan Sever because he had a bona fide belief that he was in imminent danger of great bodily harm or death and the only reasonable recourse for him was to use his firearm in self-defense.”
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