After months of investigation, the Allen County Prosecutor's Office has cleared the Fort Wayne Police Department officer who fatally shot a man outside a bar near downtown last year.
The death of Antron Pearson, who was killed in Broadway Joe's parking lot Nov. 26, 2011, by Officer Joshua Franciscy, has been ruled a justified police-action shooting.
On Monday afternoon, Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards held a news conference for reporters to ask questions about the decision not to press charges against Franciscy, and Richards explained that it is justified for an officer to shoot someone holding a weapon after they have been asked to drop it repeatedly, even if the person is holding the weapon pointed at the ground.
According to Fort Wayne Police Department records, officers responded to a call of shots fired in the Huestis Street area around 1:18 a.m., but ended up in the nearby Broadway Joe's parking lot at 2514 Broadway. After Pearson's shooting, officers reported finding a gun beside Pearson's body, department spokesman John Chambers said at the time.
“Indiana's self-defense law says you have the right to use deadly force if you are in imminent danger of serious bodily injury,” Richards said Monday.
Richards said she looked at the case with that in mind, read all the interviews and then waited for ballistics and fingerprints. Richards said she even went a little bit further. She looked at the case from a street officer's perspective. What does that officer know at that time of the incident to make a reasonable response?
To help her better understand the thought process, Richards took an abbreviated version of some of the training the officers are given to deal with these situations.
“The general research today is that I can react less quickly to your action. If you have a gun by your side and raise it, I cannot raise my gun in response quickly enough to stop that action,” Richards said.
Richards told reporters that Fort Wayne Police are trained to believe that, so when the subject repeatedly refuses to respond when asked to drop a weapon, an officer is justified in shooting them. Richards said after completing the training session, she believes this is true.
“If an officer tells you several times to put a gun down and you don't, you're going to get killed, end of story, “ Richards said.
Richards said making a decision on this case took six months, which is a little bit longer then she would normally take. However, she wanted to make sure she had all the pieces of the puzzle before reaching a conclusion.
Richards said the gun, which was found on Pearson, did not belong to him. Attempts to trace the weapon have come up with no results. One shell casing that was found behind the bar did march the ballistics of the weapon. One found in the bathroom the next day by the owner of the bar also did not.
An avid karaoke singer, Pearson was accompanied that night by his wife and was next up on the list to sing when he was fatally shot by Franciscy. That night Pearson was drinking beer, and over the course of the evening had two 32-ounce pitchers, said Joe Lebrato, owner of Broadway Joe's. Richards confirmed Monday that Pearson did have alcohol in his system, but could not say the exact amount.
Earlier this winter during a March for Justice conducted by Pearson's family and friends, Pearson's sister-in-law said Pearson was a regular at Broadway Joe's, where he sang karaoke on Friday and Saturday nights.
"Everyone liked him. He was the best man at our wedding," said Jeanna Pearson, 25. She said she had never known her brother-in-law to use a gun in self-defense.
"He always used his fists," she said.
She said the police officer who shot Antron patrolled the area regularly and had known her brother-in-law.
"It wasn't like it was somebody who didn't know him," she said.
In his four years with the FWPD, Franciscy has been disciplined twice but has also earned praise for his conduct. Franciscy joined the department in October 2007. His record shows a suspension in 2009 and a letter of reprimand in 2011, both because of accidents involving police cars. The record also shows a commendation for meritorious service in 2010.
In an interview in January, Mark GiaQuinta, attorney for the family, said he spoke to two witnesses who were there at the time of the shooting.
"There are two eyewitnesses who saw Pearson leave the bar with no weapon, and when he walked past them he had no weapon, and his wife in the bar saw no weapon," GiaQuinta said, adding, "the individual who saw him shot never saw him point anything at the police officer."
GiaQuinta said he doesn't understand why Pearson, who was at a bar to sing karaoke, would tell his wife he would be right back and then walk outside, with only a thin shirt and pants on, with no visible weapon, and moments later point a gun at a Fort Wayne Police officer.
GiaQuinta said both witnesses told him the officer shouted, "Freeze." After that, he said, it took less time than it takes to say "one-one thousand" when the officer fired five rounds at Pearson.
Police Chief Rusty York said Monday there was car video of the incident and it was dark, but Franciscy's actions were clearly visible. York also said several witnesses said the officer did ask Pearson repeatedly to put the gun down before he shot Pearson.
“Police-action shootings are always a tragedy for the victim's family and for the officer,” York said, adding, “Franciscy responded as he had been trained to respond.”
York said the training the Fort Wayne Police receive is the same the FBI and other law enforcement agencies receive.
Richards said the Indiana State Police ran a parallel investigation, as is customary in cases where there has been a police-action shooting. In an interview earlier this winter, Police Chief Rusty York said the State Police had been investigating since the night of the shooting and ran DNA and fingerprint tests on the gun that was found near Pearson's body.
Both Richards and York said they were unable to uncover any record of Pearson and Franciscy having had prior conflicts.