CINCINNATI – Cincinnati police officers had no choice but to shoot and kill a Walnut Hills man who confronted them with a rifle Monday morning, police officials said.
Gregory Sanders had already told an emergency dispatcher he killed his mother. Officers then opened fire on him when he raised his rifle to the "firing position" as he walked toward officers outside his residence on Lincoln Avenue shortly after 5 a.m. Police later discovered the rifle was unloaded.
"This is a threat that’s coming straight at you," said Assistant Chief James Whalen at an afternoon news conference. "It’s a physically big weapon with a knife attached to it … (The situation) was rapidly evolving … There simply wasn’t anything good about this at all except we had very well-trained police officers handling it."
A broad, largely internal, investigation into the fatal shooting of Sanders by police is in progress.
Initial signs point to no wrongdoing on behalf of the four police officers involved in the fatal shooting of Gregory Sanders in the 1200 block of Lincoln Avenue in Walnut Hills early Monday morning. Such investigations, which are initiated automatically after an officer-involved shooting, usually rely on officers investigating other officers, but also serve as learning opportunities for law enforcement agencies.
What lessons can be learned from officer-involved shootings? How do agencies make sure investigations of their own cops are evenhanded?
The current investigation centers on a fatal shooting on Monday morning, after four Cincinnati police officers confronted the 37-year-old Sanders. Police say he raised a rifle at the officers, which prompted three of the four responding officers to open fire. A preliminary investigation by police showed about 20 rounds were fired, with one headshot and multiple to the chest.
When the investigation is complete, the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s Office produces a recommendation, detailing the findings and whether lethal force was justified, said spokesperson Julie Wilson. The Citizens Complaint Authority, an independent body formed after the 2001 riots to review serious police intervention, will conduct a parallel investigation to the police department’s.
CPD’s Professional Standards unit, or Internal Affairs, will review the officers’ conduct and will report its findings, too. Lastly, an internal Cincinnati police firearms review board, chaired by Assistant Police Chief Paul Humphries, will review how the officers used their weapons for compliance with CPD policy, as well as for tactical and training implications, Humphries said Monday.
Officers started en route to Sanders home around 5 a.m. after he called police, admitting he killed his mother. When officers arrived, the first two walked up to the front door at 1228 Lincoln Ave. and saw Sanders lift a rifle off the floor in the living room.
After repeatedly ordering Sanders to drop the rifle, the officers retreated to the street and took cover behind their parked cruisers and a white van parked on the street. One officer, Kenneth Grubbs, retreated near another house.
Sanders walked outside the home and confronted the other three officers, William Keuper, Stephanie Greene and Michael Moore.
Sanders raised his Chiang Kai-shek rifle, with a bayonet on the end, toward the officers and the officers fired about 20 shots, hitting Sanders in the head and chest, officials said. The officers have been placed on seven-day paid administrative leave, Whalen said.
Friends told investigators that Sanders was “stressed” spanning the last week, but that he has no history of mental illness, Whalen said.
WCPO reporter Bryce Anslinger spoke to the woman engaged to marry Sanders, Carmelita Jones.
"My baby," she said, "he snapped. We had big plans."
Jones knew Sanders for 13 years, and said Sanders had a good relationship with his mother. Five years ago, Deb Sanders was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Jones said Sanders had a hard time dealing with his mother's illness.
"That can be strenuous and straining on any relationship," Jones said. "Nothing was good enough. He cooks too salty, he doesn't do laundry good enough."
She said Sanders seemed down during recent days, and was distant. When she asked him about his behavior, he told her he was fine.
"His whole life was dedicated to taking care of his mother," Jones said. 'Everything he did was about taking care of his mother."
One of Sanders' friends, Michael Thompson, agreed that Sanders wasn't acting normally the past few days and must have "flipped out" before killing his mother Monday morning and confronting police with a gun.
"One of his brothers being murdered and one dying of a brain aneurysm and then something had to happen between him and his mother – had to be words exchanged, or something happened to where he flipped out," Thompson said. "Had to be, because every time I saw him he was always talking positive and peaceful."
A neighbor, Mark Foster, said that Sanders "wasn't acting his normal self since Friday." Foster
said Sanders woke him up Monday morning and said he killed his mother, Deb Sanders.
"Five o'clock this morning he came up on the porch and broke my glass out trying to wake me up, which he did, and he said, 'Call 911. I murdered my mom …'
"He says, 'I gotta go.' (He) flew across the yard. I went back to put a jacket on – heard 10 shots at least -- looked out and he was laying in the middle of the street face down. Sad."
Sanders' mother had brain surgery three or four years ago and he had moved into her house to take care of her, Foster said.
"Good people. That's why I said it's a shock to see that he would do something like that," Foster said.
Asked if Sanders had committed "suicide by cop," Whalen said he couldn't give a definitive answer.
"It’s a little speculative, but it's certainly logical to consider," Whalen said.
Once officers fired their weapons, an extensive investigation was put in motion.
All of the units and agencies then work in conjunction with one another throughout the investigation, which is led by a member of the police department and an experienced prosecutor from the county prosecutor’s office, Wilson said.
WCPO web editors Alyssa Dailey and Holly Pennebaker contributed to this story.