Clayton Helriggle (deceased) Might Get His Day in Court
I covered the case of Mr. Helriggle (briefly) back in November in a piece I titled The War on (some) Drugs™ Claims Another Victim. Unfortunately, the first of the earlier links is broken, but the second works.
Well, it appears that his family hasn’t given up, and the local prosecutor is considering convening a grand jury to review the case.
Greene County Prosecutor Bill Schenck said he intends to meet with investigators Feb. 2 to discuss possibly reconvening a Preble County grand jury to revisit the Sept. 27, 2002, shooting death of Clayton Helriggle by a police officer.
Helriggle was killed when, carrying a handgun, he came down the stairs of the home where he was living, surprising officers during a drug raid. One year ago, a grand jury declined to hand up any indictments in the shooting. Schenck, Greene County prosecutor, was appointed as a special prosecutor in the case, which was investigated by the Montgomery County Sheriffs Office.
“Some cases beg for their day in court. This case needs to be aired,” Schenck said Monday. He and Suzanne Schmidt, a Greene County assistant prosecutor who also worked on the case, are concerned about a public perception that Helriggle was a drug dealer. They and investigators will look into possible perjury charges against Kevin Leitch, whose grand jury testimony in January 2003 conflicted with what he earlier told Eaton and Preble County law officials.
“I think it’s fair to say there was no drug dealing by Mr. Helriggle,” Schenck said. “To have that (testimony) circulating bothers me and Suzanne, and it bothers the officers in Montgomery County, who spent months investigating the raid. If I knew my child was not a drug dealer, I would want that to be known,” he said.
Helriggle’s mother said she has dogged the prosecutors to consider charges against Leitch. “I think he should pay for lying,” Sharon Helriggle said. “I don’t think he should be able to get away with it.”
Mrs. Helriggle said prosecutors told her they wanted to shield her from having to appear again before a grand jury. “They said they didn’t want to open my wounds. I had to laugh when I heard that. My wounds haven’t closed; they probably never will.”
Michael and Sharon Helriggle in September filed a federal civil lawsuit, seeking damages for what they allege was the wrongful death of their son.
Schenck said he would like to know what caused Leitch to change his testimony. “Was he just confused? If he was lying, why?”
The warrant to search Helriggle’s farmhouse at 1282 Ohio 503 North was based solely on Leitch’s information that his girlfriend purchased a small amount of marijuana there and that she told him up to 13 pounds of pot would be on the premises the day of the raid. Police found only a small amount of marijuana in the raid.
Leitch, who was awaiting sentencing on more than a dozen Preble County convictions of forgery, theft, burglary, breaking and entering and safecracking, told officers and deputies that one of Helriggle’s roommates was dealing marijuana from the house. At the grand jury, however, Leitch, now serving a three-year term at Lebanon Correctional Institution, contradicted his earlier statements and said Helriggle was the drug dealer.
Four days before the raid on the Lanier Twp. farmhouse Helriggle shared with four roommates, Eaton Police officer Jeff Cotner told investigators he heard from a confidential informant that Leitch planned to break into the farmhouse and steal the marijuana. The day before the raid, police stopped Leitch’s car, found a cache of stolen weapons, and took him in for questioning. It was then Leitch told officers about the alleged 13 pounds of marijuana. Authorities then went to a local judge for a search warrant, and the raid was hastily planned.
A subsequent investigation by the Dayton Daily News found the officers had little or no training for such a SWAT-type raid; little or no intelligence was gathered about the layout of the farmhouse; the number of people inside; and what, if any, weapons might be inside. As officers were nearing the gravel drive to the farmhouse, the original plans for the raid were changed.
As the raid unfolded, the wrong entry team entered the house first; shots were fired by police at two dogs inside the kitchen; and a flash-bang grenade added to the confusion. One officer, hearing the shots behind him and thinking he had been shot, saw a figure coming down a back stairway — which officers did not know was there — and fired a single round from his shotgun, striking Helriggle in the chest. He died at the scene.
Schenck said he and Schmidt will speak to the Montgomery County investigators who put together an 800-page report on the shooting and subsequent administrative review. On the advice of their attorneys, the officers involved in the raid did not cooperate in the administrative review, which was intended to see if procedures and policies were followed.
Schenck praised the the grand jury and Montgomery County investigators, and “quite frankly, even the Preble County officers, for the most part, who were out there. They were just doing their job.”
He said, however, questions remain unanswered.
“The whole scenario, for whatever reason, just leaves you wringing your hands,” he said. “All of us who spent time on this case feel a tremendous amount of pain.”
Understand this: due to the War on (some) Drugs™ agents of the State can get a search warrant on the word of one known criminal, perform a no-knock raid on your house, shoot your pets, and kill an innocent family member.
And suffer no penalty for it.
It’s “just doing their job.”
And people say the War on (some) Drugs™ is a good thing.
Sorry. I don’t agree.
UPDATE, 1/21/04: More links to stories about the incident:
(Not specifically related to this case:) EXPLOSIVE DYNAMIC ENTRY
From this op-ed:
The most telling aspect of Montgomery County Sheriff Dave Vore’s investigation into the Preble County sheriff’s now disbanded regional SWAT team was its members’ refusal to cooperate.
All four of these links and many others can be found here.