Lima, Ohio SWAT Officer Acquitted in the Killing of Tarika Wilson

Tuesday, August 5th, 2008

A Lima, Ohio jury has acquitted police officer Joseph Chavalia of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 26-year-old Tarika Wilson.  Chavalia shot and killed Wilson and wounded her infant son during a drug raid last January.  Wilson was unarmed.

During the raid, one of Chavalia’s fellow officers shot and killed the two dogs owned by Wilson’s boyfriend and the target of the raid, Anthony Terry.  Chavalia testified that he mistook his fellow officer’s shots at the dogs for hostile gunfire coming from the bedroom where Wilson was standing with her child.  Chavalia then fired blindly into the bedroom.

The jury concluded that Chavalia reasonably feared for his life when he heard the gunshots.  I guess they were then willing to overlook Chavalia’s mistaking an unarmed woman holding a baby for an armed drug dealer, and the fact that he fired blindly into a room without first identifying what he was shooting at.  It’s too bad that that same sort of deference isn’t given to the people on the receiving end of these raids when they too understandably confuse the police officers who wake them from sleep and invade their homes for criminal intruders.

This case illustrates the low margin for error in these raids, and why they’re a bad idea even when the police do hit the correct house.  Anthony Terry may be a bad man.  But these sorts of tactics are too volatile and too dangerous to be using on anyone except for those people who pose an immediate risk to the public.  Even the smallest mistakes can lead to unnecessary casualties.

It also shows how layer upon layer of flawed arguments can allow something as unjustifiable as the shooting death of an unarmed woman and the near-killing of her infant son to be dismissed as mere collateral damage.  The initial argument is that we need to prohibit drugs to protect people from the harm they cause.  That’s followed by the argument that we need to use aggressive, paramilitary raids to apprehend drug dealers, because they might dispose of evidence or shoot cops were drug warrants to be served by less confrontational means.  That’s followed by the argument that we have to forgive cops who kill innocent people in these raids because the raids themselves are incredibly volatile and dangerous.  Never mind that the police created the danger and volatility in the first place.

Put those arguments together and you get the absurd premise that the government’s killing of Tarika Wilson—and all of the drug raid deaths that came before her—is an acceptable consequence of the government’s responsibility to protect her (and all of us) from the effects of illicit drugs.

That simply doesn’t add up.

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47 Responses to “Lima, Ohio SWAT Officer Acquitted in the Killing of Tarika Wilson”

  1. #1 |  Highway | 

    And from good news to more crappy news…

    Something has to be done to make the police culpable for this ‘collateral damage’ that occurs when THEY, not anyone else, but THEY make the decision to escalate a situation with the use of SWAT and paramilitary tactics. I know there will be borderline cases, but in cases like this, where they decide to use ‘overwhelming force’, then the consequences are on them.

    Seriously, what’s next? This case already shows that no matter WHO fires a gun, the cops can use that as justification to shoot ANYONE. For whatever reason they want. “I was scared.” Then MAYBE you shouldn’t be on a damn police force! I mean, seriously: What does it take more than shooting up an unarmed woman and an infant! Would some cop have to shoot up the VFW hall? A yoga class? A preschool?

    If there was ever a situation that shows that politicians and police do NOT care about the people they supposedly represent and ‘protect’, this crap shows it.

    Vile. And Officer Chavalia: I hope you find a job you can do better. Maybe get behind a desk at a flooring store or something. Because if you’re going to be so frightened for your life like this, you shouldn’t be on a police force, much less on a SWAT team.

  2. #2 |  Highway | 

    Oh, and I’d also like to add that I really, *really* wonder how strenuously the state’s attorney’s office pursues cases like this. I really wonder if it’s just a perfunctory ‘well, we gotta put it up on trial, because someone died, but we won’t try too hard because it might hurt our relationship with the police.’

  3. #3 |  Ron | 

    The arguments resolve to:

    “We had to destroy the village in order to save it.”

  4. #4 |  great unknown | 

    An all-white jury (what a statistical improbability), a white officer, and a black victim.

  5. #5 |  Edintally | 

    Ah ha! The old “I was fearing for my life so I shot blindly through a wall” defense. No way in hell a prosecutor could defeat that kind of reasonable doubt! The DA was fighting an uphill battle.

    Good try though.

  6. #6 |  Ginger Dan | 


    Radley, to your point of no-knock victims using the same defense (haven’t heard anything about Ryan Fredricks in a while), is half-asleep homeowners awakened in the middle of the night need to be held to a higher standard than the police with the semi-automatic rifles. (sarcasm)

  7. #7 |  Bot | 

    Yes Radley, this all stems fundamentally from the argument that drugs are bad for you and that the government has the moral duty to keep them away from you. Morality is not fond of cost/benefit analysis.

    Death by government is the inevitable outcome of any policy based on purely moral grounds.

  8. #8 |  David | 

    What does it take more than shooting up an unarmed woman and an infant! Would some cop have to shoot up the VFW hall? A yoga class? A preschool?

    A moving warrior II posture can sort of look like people aiming guns. How’s an officer supposed to be able to tell?

  9. #9 |  Dave Krueger | 

    This is WAR! You should expect the occasional collateral damage and quit whining about it. Instead of crying about how innocent they were, you should be celebrating the death of those bystanders for their valiant personal sacrifice so that the rest of us can be free from the scourge of drugs. Not everyone has the opportunity to lay down their lives in service to America’s heroic police. Sure the cops are somewhat indiscriminant, but those who associate with drug criminals have to expect to be stung. As for the dogs, who cares? If they were drug sniffing dogs or part of a police canine unit, it would be a tragedy, but pets? How can anyone be concerned about mere pets in the midst of WAR?

  10. #10 |  The_Chef | 

    Dear god … I hove that is sarcasm Dave.

  11. #11 |  The_Chef | 

    *hope need to learn to proofread.

  12. #12 |  Danno49 | 

    While we are all disappointed that (again!) the right thing was not done . . . is anyone really shocked or surprised? Another day, another victim in the war on the citizenry misses an opportunity for justice. I hate to sound cynical, but tell me . . . how can anyone worth their salt in the brain department look at what’s going on around us on a daily basis and not be so? The little victories such as Dr. Hayne’s dismissal are so few and far between that they do not resonate with the public that there is a real problem so nothing major will be done. I don’t know what it’s going to take if it takes anything to wake people up. I suppose the only thing we can do that may make an impact in the long run is collectively talk about these issues with our family and friends . . . not with a long-winded soapbox attitude but merely mention what is happening and give a quick rundown as to why it’s wrong and then leave it be to fester. The people that are apt to ‘get it’ may come around and swell the ranks to a point where we can be a louder voice. But I fear that may not be enough. I wonder if there will ever sufficient numbers of people who truly give a damn to stop these and all the other injustices to liberty and freedom before it’s too late.

    Cynical? Yeah, that’s me.

  13. #13 |  Mike | 

    Put those arguments together and you get the absurd premise that the government’s killing of Tarika Wilson—and all of the drug raid deaths that came before her—is an acceptable consequence of the government’s responsibility to protect her (and all of us) from the effects of illicit drugs.

    Reminds me of one of my favorite maxims. Whenever anyone says you can’t make an omelet without breaking some eggs, immediately demand to see an omelet. What is all his bloodshed buying us?

  14. #14 |  Windypundit | 

    It smells, but it’s possible the jury here did the right thing.

    Suppose that instead of a drug-related raid, this was a hostage rescue in which Anthony Terry was holding Tarika Wilson and her son hostage. In the confusion, Chavalia got confused and killed one of the hostages. I think even us cop-distrustful libertarians would probably put that down to good intentions gone awry.

    The thing is, legally speaking, whether we like it or not, a drug raid is just as justified as a hostage rescue. So it’s not entirely surprising that the jury did not convict.

    The problem for us libertarians is not so much what a frightened cop does in a confusing situation, but the morally bankrupt policies that put him there.

  15. #15 |  The Brown Acid | 

    “The unequal application of the law is the essence of totalitarianism.”

    Something my polisci prof once said to me.

  16. #16 |  Danno49 | 

    “The thing is, legally speaking, whether we like it or not, a drug raid is just as justified as a hostage rescue. So it’s not entirely surprising that the jury did not convict.

    The problem for us libertarians is not so much what a frightened cop does in a confusing situation, but the morally bankrupt policies that put him there.”

    I understand your point but where does the accountability start, Windy? They certainly aren’t going to go chopping at the commanders or higher up. How does the policy get attacked if the folks who are ‘just following orders’ aren’t brought to justice? God, I hate to play that card but I honestly can’t think of anything else that works in this case.

  17. #17 |  The Brown Acid | 

    Where are our resident trolls to defend this and tell us how cops have such a tough job and always put their lives on the line to protect us from infant wielding mothers and blah blah blah?


  18. #18 |  MacK | 

    “It smells, but it’s possible the jury here did the right thing.”

    Stinks like shit, and no they did not.

    “Suppose that instead of a drug-related raid, this was a hostage rescue in which Anthony Terry was holding Tarika Wilson and her son hostage. In the confusion, Chavalia got confused and killed one of the hostages. I think even us cop-distrustful libertarians would probably put that down to good intentions gone awry.”

    There is a big difference here. First is for 99% of drug related crimes SWAT is overkill. In drug related crimes most of the people involved are not considered dangerous, thus the use of SWAT with no hesitation is commonplace. Due to the publics view brought on by the government, police, and news media all drug users/providers, and innocent bystanders deserve whatever can be done to them, because no one is innocent.

    Second in a hostage situation a cop will not do anything to harm the innocent person, because this is one of the few times others will hold them accountable. During a hostage situation the perpetrator is always considered extremely dangerous, so only after all other avenues have been exhausted will SWAT actually act. Just watch Dallas SWAT and you will see this is common. When there is little danger they are gungho mofos,,but when danger level is high they do all they can to not become actively engaged.

  19. #19 |  Cappy | 


    Thing is.


    By his own admission, the cop shot blindly, didn’t identify his target and killed an innocent and wounded another.


  20. #20 |  Sparky | 

    Does anyone know if the family can file a wrongful death suit against the police department in this case?

  21. #21 |  Frank | 

    “So long as we live under our current Supreme Court — and so long as our local cops insist on playing soldier in pursuit of the hopeless and counterproductive “War on Drugs” — innocent Americans should consider making Kevlar vests parts of their normal home lounging attire. And investing in larger-caliber home defense weapons.”
    – Vin Suprynowicz 03 Dec 2006

  22. #22 |  Windypundit | 

    Danno49, I don’t know. It’s a frustrating and infuriating situation. Ending the War on Drugs is the permanent solution, but that doesn’t seem likely to happen between now and the next fatally botched raid.

    MacK, it probably wasn’t clear from my comment, but I agree with everything you say about the difference between drug raids and hostage rescues. I’m just saying that the law (and by extension the legislatures that created it) doesn’t see things that way.

    Most hostage takers are not terrorists but just ordinary criminals who panic at the thought of arrest and grab a hostage on impulse. Often the “hostages” are really just family members in the home with the criminal when he decides to barricaded himself inside when the police come to arrest him for something.

    Old-school hostage doctrine had been to conduct quick and aggressive raids in this situation. Sometimes this killed the hostage, sometimes it killed a cop, and often it killed the hostage taker. Given the realities of crime statistics, this meant that the cops were killing a lot of black people.

    That black community became outraged, and modern hostage negotiation rose up in response. If I remember right, the first time they tried it in New York, the NYPD spent something like 30 hours waiting for a black man with a gun to give himself up quietly. It worked, and the police earned some respect from the community.

    Maybe it will take something like that to start a revolution against drug raids. Maybe it will take some major city police department responding to pressure and switching tactics.

    Until then, people will keep dying.

  23. #23 |  SusanK | 

    I’m not a troll, but here is the thought I’ve struggled with:
    The officer was scared. Through his training, he was taught to be scared, that all druggies have guns and are violent, that all druggies will attack without provocation, and so forth.
    So, being a scared human, hearing gunshots caused him to fire, unfortunately killing Ms. Wilson.
    Is the officer here at fault as much as the policy and procedure that trains these officers, encourages a mentality of fear, and llows these raids?
    If this is a result of a culture of violence/war within the police departments, should the individual officer have been convicted? Probably not. It’s not like the jury could nullify the policy and exonerate the officer.

  24. #24 |  ktc2 | 

    He was firing blindly. There is no excuse for that. He should be guilty of manslaughter at a minimum with any sane informed jury. Scared or not shooting at random IS NOT a valid option ESPECIALLY for a supposedly “trained professional”.

  25. #25 |  Dave Krueger | 

    Maybe they should make the cops go into drug raids unarmed. That would rein in the macho factor, make them more thoughtful about strategy and tactics, and almost certainly reduce the injury and death rate.

    Of course, that all has to be balanced against the fact that taking their guns away would eliminate the fun side of it.

  26. #26 |  George | 

    A few years ago, a cop went into the next-city-over home of a guy who he thought had insulted him in traffic earlier. Stuck a gun in the guy’s mouth and slapped him around; this was witnessed by neighbors. The local DA prosecuted and lost, tho as he said he had a good case: not just witnesses, but also a good middle-class white victim. The DA was disappointed but not surprised, saying it’s tough to get juries to convict cops.

  27. #27 |  Windypundit | 

    Dave, that may be a tad extreme, but it would be a good idea to cut off the funding. As Radley (I think) has pointed out, a lot of these small-town SWAT teams (and some of the bigger ones) get their funding, weapons, and training from the feds for War on Terror/Drugs purposes. I doubt the Lima police would have a SWAT team kicking down doors every week if they had to pay the entire cost of maintaining the team.

  28. #28 |  nemo | 

    What really gets me every time this happens is that nobody bothers to ask a very important question: Is the DrugWar inherently racist?

    It’s pretty obvious from reviewing its’ history that it was racist from the get-go. Like as not, the factor existed then, and it shows up in the racial composition of our prisons today. Like a ‘fire and forget’ missile, the DrugWar has been trundling along for over 8 decades after its’ launch based upon ‘yellow journalism’ and it seems only historians are able to point to its’ bigoted origins.

    If more of the minority leadership of this country were to examine those origins, they’d be more interested in shutting down the DrugWar instead of bemoaning the latest dead unarmed person of color. You’d think, anyways…

  29. #29 |  Sam | 

    I follow the theory that primary responsibility for any action lies with the first individual you find going up a chain of events, not the tool. So: the gun didn’t discharge accidentally, it was the individual behind it. If the cop were a tool, there would be a different individual responsible. If his intelligence or supervisor is a tool, then the investigators or the chief are responsible, etc etc etc…which is how we say that leadership is responsible for the actions of subordinates. What we’ve done here is suggest that either no one is responsible (and that gunshots are acts of god) or that murder is morally justifiable in this instance.

    It is impossible to believe that an infant and mother should be executed for being at home. It has been suggested (by forum trolls I suppose) that it is appropriate that they die (the mother in this case) because they are drug addicts, drug dealers, welfare burdens, black, or not telepathic. I believe it is important for us to require a statement of reason in situations like this. Tell me *why* he is not responsible…for if he is not another is, and must be held accountable. If the jury believes him morally correct I want it to be *very* clear that murder is reasonable in this context so we can dismantle their justification.

  30. #30 |  xyz123 | 

    y’all seem remarkably outraged by this. were you not paying attention when lon horiuchi walked away a free man?

    the precedent was set long ago. some animals are merely more equal than others.

  31. #31 |  roy | 

    Being justifiably scared is the difference between manslaughter and murder. It is not the difference between guilty and innocent.

  32. #32 |  Danno49 | 

    Thank you for that very lucid post, Sam.

  33. #33 |  FWB | 

    “There ain’t no good intentions clause in the Constitution.” – FWB

    A cop’s job is to protect the people and to die FOR us not to kill us. If a cop can’t handle the situation without resorting to force, the cop should be terminated.

    One of my unanswered questions is: “Why did we need an amendment to ban alcohol but no amendment was needed to bans drugs?” It would appear that the laws banning “drugs” violate the Constitution or maybe those folks that pushed through the 18th amendment were just STOOOPID!

  34. #34 |  Windypundit | 

    xyz123, Although I have to admit I didn’t make the woman-holding-a-baby connection until now, I know the name Lon Horiuchi, and I’m sure I’m not the only other person here who does. We were outraged then, we’re outraged now.

  35. #35 |  SusanK | 

    I think Sam (#29) said what I was trying to say. Just did a much better job with it.

  36. #36 |  supercat | 

    //The thing is, legally speaking, whether we like it or not, a drug raid is just as justified as a hostage rescue.//

    How so? Cops are supposed to act in such fashion as to minimize the risk of harm to innocents. In some hostage situations, the only way to minimize the risk of harm to innocent hostages is to engage in a full-strength assault. Depending upon the mentality of the hostage-takers, doing anything less may increase the risk that they will kill the hostages.

    Drug raids can claim no such justification.

  37. #37 |  supercat | 

    //Maybe they should make the cops go into drug raids unarmed.//

    The functions of rev’nooers and peace officers need to be separated. Such separation would improve both; the peace officers would be spared the corrupting influences of revenue enforcement, and the rev’nooers would be spared some of the power associated with peace officers.

  38. #38 |  Alex | 

    I don’t understand why they don’t make sure the right guy is at home, or arrest him outside…check that, I do understand. Black lives are cheap, cheaper than hours it would take to do real police work. And, SWAT raids are FUN! Those guys wouldn’t wan to do anything else.

  39. #39 |  adam | 

    The entire criminal justice system is racist. The motto of too many police officers is, “If you are white, it will be alright.” Especially if you are white and rich. By the way, I’m white but not yet rich. I’m on the get rich slow program.

  40. #40 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    When I read this story, which is so similar to others that Radley has reported on over the years, I instantly started thinking of “Guns of Brixton” by The Clash (“When they kick in your front door, how you gonna come/ With your hands on your head or on the trigger of your gun…”). Now I think I could accurately describe myself as a pro-police libertarian but this is not what police work should entail! I echo the opinions of other commenters by pointing out the obvious: Drug enforcement has nothing to do with the traditional (and noble) mission of protecting and serving. It is all about paternalism and control. If our system was the least bit sane at this point, an incident like this would shake officials so badly that they would say, “its just not fucking worth it anymore. A mother is dead. An infant is injured. And for what??? CALL IT OFF.” Citizens and police officers will be in grave danger until this reactionary policy is discontinued. Drugs should be legal and regulated to protect consumers (they aren’t now and that is whyt we have too many overdoses, not to mention prohibition related violence). SWAT teams should return to their original function: dealing with hostage/barricade situations and other critical incidents. We’ll all be better off in the long run.

  41. #41 |  Andrew | 

    and yet if I’m in fear for my life and shoot through a door and kill a cop I end up on death row. Provided I actually make it there of course.

    I’m convinced that these raids won’t stop until the cost to those performing them is too high. Once entire entry teams gets greased while performing one of this abominations nothing is going to change. When the masked bandits in jackboots are convinced that if they kick down a door in the middle of the night that one or more of them is most likely going home in a body bag they’re going to be much less enthusiastic about doing them.

    After all, this whole protect and serve mantra and the propaganda about a brave, selfless officer jumping in front of a bullet to save a defenseless citizen and putting his life on the line at every single traffic stop to keep you safe from the barbarians is so much horseshit. They’re concerned with one thing – going home unscathed at the end of the shift. if they get to run around and play with cool coptoys and kick around some derelicts slinging weed or crackrock then all the better. Once they know that engaging in brutal home invasions will most likely result in not going home at the end of the shift the numbers of these things will drop dramatically.

    They had better re-examine what they doing. When you have a law abiding straight arrow citizen from a LE family wishing to see you and your entry teams all come out of a building in body bags every time you engage in one of these abominable raids there is something very wrong with what you’re doing.

  42. #42 |  Helmut O' Hooligan | 

    Andrew, I know this situation is frustrating, but you must know that strawman arguments do nothing to make the situation better. In fact, they only embolden the hard-liners. They would love to paint people like you and I as bomb-throwing anti-government terrorists. Historically speaking, violence usually encourages further state repression or replaces one repressive system with another, so I strongly disagree with your theory that meeting raids with violence will somehow solve the problem. That said, I also understand why folks like Corey Maye, et al. are taking the actions they are taking. Chipping away at drug war propoganda will take time, so there are no easy answers. Remember, most people–many of them well-meaning–still support the drug war in some fashion. People are just now coming round to medical marijuana, so obviously we have a lot of work to do.

    By the way, I am also from a law enforcement family. To some extent, I share your dissatisfaction with many of the current trends in policing, but to say that the sole concern of ALL officers (you wield the broad brush like a champ, my man) is to go home “unscathed” is just demonstrably false, in my experience. I mean, did you ever go on a ride-along or have any in-depth conversations with your LEO relatives about their work? I will concede that the danger involved in police work is stressed too much in academy training, and may warp recruits’ perception about the threat the community actually poses to them. The police are not always heroes and they are not always the enemy. They are human beings working in a country that needs to start living up to its limited government pretensions. If you don’t realize that, then you may have already succumbed to the kind of war mentality that you claim the police have fallen into.

  43. #43 |  xyz123 | 

    ok, helmut, i’ll bite.

    after reading story after story after story – many reported solely by this blog – of cops killing dogs; and kids; and little old grandmaw ladies; and trying to kill many others while serving warrants at the wrong address; of gunning down unarmed guys with 50 shots; of framing/railroading/testilying innocent men into long prison sentences because their *special cop senses* TOLD them the guys were guilty; of DA’s and coroners doing likewise because it’d look good on their conviction records; of cops tasering handcuffed people and grannies because it’s fun; and on and on and ON….

    and considering i’ve personally seen cops doing hardcore weapons-drawn “felony stops” on little old men and schoolgirl cheerleaders with a broken tail light or an expired license plate more than once …

    and *in each and every case*, the LEO community not only vociferously denied being at fault in any way but insisted that the outrage in question was o-so-sacred “policy”……or, failing that, they “promise an investigation” that never seems to bear results….

    when exactly would you suggest that we be allowed to consider all cops as dangerous mad dogs, like the gangs? at what point would it be *reasonable* for us to “succumb” to a war mentality? did you have a number in mind? will it require proof that a cop shot the kennedys?

  44. #44 |  ToBe or Not toBe | 

    Maybe I’m just Not getting all this. Let me Pose a question to the readers here.

    Lets say that the Chinese or Russians were to Invade this country, and start going from House to House with Armed Thugs, shooting people and leaving bodies all over the place. Would the American people just continue to sit in their homes waiting for the Armed Forces to come shoot them up as well? By the way this article looks, the answer to that question would have to be YES THEY WOULD.

    But In reality, the Majority of Veterans and armed citizens would start some kind of Group to Protect the citizens, and may even build their own Armed Defense Team to Hunt Down those Rogues and kill them and their families off, as they are doing to the citizens.

    So, let me ask another question. What the Hell is the Difference between Armed Swat Team killing citizens, or the Chinese Killing Citizens? NOT A DAMN BIT.

    One Last Question. OK sense there is No real difference between them, WHY ARE THE PEOPLE NOT DOING A DAMN THING ABOUT IT?

    This question has eluded me for a long time now.

  45. #45 |  ToBe or Not toBe | 

    People, the Government is there for ONE REASON, and that is to Defend our Borders and the citizens of this country from such as I have stated.

    If the Government tells the Chinese ” It’s OK to go Door to Door and Kill the people ” Would we likewise ALLOW them to Kill the people in the Name of whatever the Governments reasons may be? HELL NO, we would Take Up Arms and Wait for those Nasty Chinese who wanted to Kill the people, and we would do the same to them.

    You can use whatever scenario you want to, but it all boils down to the SAME THING. The People are being killed off by a Rogue Army of Armed Thugs that see nothing wrong in shooting someone who they seem to think could be a threat to them.

    When will the Citizens Learn that these Armed Thugs are NOT YOUR FRIENDS, and start Protecting your fellow Americans from these Local Armies of Armed Thugs?

  46. #46 |  Ed | 

    Is it moral (universally preferable behaviour) to go up to someone’s home and shoot their dogs and shoot into their home?
    Is that ever the type of behaviour that most of us engage in? If not, why? Could it be that most of us know that it’s wrong? Could it be that people who don’t understand that this behaviour is immoral are extremely ignorant or have a mental disorder? Aren’t people like that known as sociopaths and psychopaths? Could it be that they’re the way they are because of an abusive up-bringing? Maybe it’s time to take pity on these people who call themselves “law enforcement” and CONSTANTLY encourage them to seek psychological help.

  47. #47 |  SSDD « The Heat Death Hour | 

    […] officer Joseph Chavalia of involuntary manslaughter in the death of 26-year-old Tarika Wilson. Chavalia shot and killed Wilson and wounded her infant son during a drug raid last January. Wilson was unarmed. During the raid, one of Chavalia’s fellow officers shot and killed the two […]