Fairfield officer who shot, killed man received scathing evaluations in 2013, WCPO uncovers

FAIRFIELD, Ohio – The officer who shot and killed a 23-year-old man in Fairfield Saturday received a slew of "unsatisfactory" and "needs improvement" ratings in his most recent performance review.

Officials said Officer Scott Conklin, a 10-year veteran of the Fairfield Police Department, shot Caleb Surface just before 8 p.m. in a cul-de-sac at the end of Saint Andrews Court.

During Conklin's 90 day evaluation for the period of Sept. 6, 2013 to Dec. 6, 2013, he received the lowest possible rating from his managers for his "reliability, attendance and timeliness."

"During this 90 day period, Officer Conklin was scheduled to work a total of 61 work days. Of those 61, (he) worked 26 full days and four partial days," the evaluation states. "He took a total of 31 full days and 4 partial days off."

The review states Conklin called in sick with only 5.55 hours of sick time left, and was on unapproved absence for the remaining three hours. He was also late to work and late to a court appearance in November, causing him to miss a case being adjudicated.

Conklin also received the lowest possible rating for his "adherence to policies, rules and instructions." Officials said he left voicemails to his supervisors on three occasions that he would be late or not be arriving to work instead of speaking to them directly -- which is a violation of Special Order 2009-06.

For his "quality of work," Conklin was given a rating of two out of five, meaning he "needs improvement." Officials noted Conklin failed to meet a traffic stop standard in November and also received a complaint from a driver in an injury accident for failing to get a witness statement.

For his "initiative," Conklin was also given a two.

"Officer Conklin has shown no interest in expanding his knowledge or taking of new tasks, which was discussed with him...," the report states.

Conklin was also involved in a civil hearing in October filed against him by a co-worker. In September, he was assigned to a Citizen Police Academy rider. Conklin "cut the ride short" and sent the rider home. She told his supervisors the ride was "less than satisfactory" and "Conklin did not seem to like his job."

In a past evaluation conducted in February of 2013, Conklin received a similar scathing review from his supervisors, which included a note that he failed to show for a scheduled blood alcohol content testing in October of 2012.

Officials also said Conklin struggled to write "accurate reports," had issues of long response times and did not follow up on three assigned cases.

On the night Surface was killed, authorities said the 23-year-old broke into his father's home in the 2000 block of Spyglass Hill Court. Surface had forced his way into at least one other home on the street before, and was hit with a string of drug charges in the past, records show.

A physical fight then broke out between the father and son, police said, which led to Surface’s father calling 911.

Surface fled the house through a back door when Fairfield police officers arrived. A pursuit spanned less than a block before Conklin confronted him.

While it is still unclear what happened next, police said Conklin fired multiple shots at Surface, striking him at least once. Surface died a short time later in the cul-de-sac.

"It's terrible when a 23-year-old man is shot to death in the street. It doesn't matter where it happens," neighbor Jim Bonhaus said.

Bonhaus said his normally peaceful neighborhood was rattled when the shots were fired. He had never heard or seen anything like it in his 35 years living there.

Surface’s body was carried away from the cul-de-sac by the Butler County Coroner's Office at about 4:30 a.m., almost nine hours after his father called 911.

"What a terrible way to end your life, being shot to death by a police man and laying in the street for eight hours before they take you away,” Bonhaus said. “How sad is that?"

Surface did not fire a shot at officers and it's unclear what provoked the shooting, Day said.

Day said there are many reasons why an officer might open fire, which include suggestive actions or gestures that indicate a person is armed.

"You display a weapon, you refuse our commands, you tell us you have a weapon, you make a furtive movement that makes us believe you're pulling a weapon at us, we will likely fire shots," he said.

Day did not say if Surface was armed during the confrontation with police.

Surface’s cousin Ed Kathman said Surface’s father does not believe his son was carrying a gun the night of his death.

“To the best of his father's knowledge, his son was unarmed, and that's what he told police,” Kathman said.

Kathman said Surface “didn’t take any weapons out of the house.” But he said that doesn’t necessarily mean he wasn’t armed.

“It’s just an ongoing struggle with chemical dependency," Kathman said. "He was a good kid. He just struggled with drugs.”

Kathman is an attorney and said he represented Surface in some of his cases.

Surface’s father did not have any idea of the exact location of where

his son was shot.

“(Officers) never let the father out of the house, they kept him in the house," Kathman said. "They then took him and made him give a lengthy statement.”

Before his death Saturday, Surface wrote on his Facebook page, "Beer and gun hmmm what to do." He later posted, "Last words?"

In an official statement Monday, Surface's family said they will not comment on the shooting untilt he investigation is complete.

"The family expects a full and accurate accounting of what transpired from the time that Caleb left his father's home until his death a short time later," the family's lawyer said.

The family said Surface was "a kind-hearted young man who had many challenges with chemical dependency during his time on Earth."

"Caleb's father, who has solely raised his son since age ten, has dedicated his life to helping Caleb overcome these issues," the family's lawyer said. "It is our prayer that Caleb has finally found the peace that he struggled to achieve in life."

Conklin was placed on paid administrative leave while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations and the Fairfield Police Department investigate.

Officials from the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and the city attorney will review the results of the investigation to determine if any charges will be filed.

WCPO's Casey Weldon and Jay Warren contributed to this report

View A Map Of Where The Shooting Took Place

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