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Investigation finds Muncie police officer 'justified' in firing shot, but should have given verbal warning

Probe stems from August 2022 incident at Baymont Inn
An investigation by Muncie PD's Professional Standards found SWAT Commander Jeff Pease was justified when he fired his rifle into a hotel door on August 11, but he should have given a verbal warning before firing.
Posted at 9:17 PM, May 03, 2023
and last updated 2023-05-04 09:26:45-04

MUNCIE — The Muncie Police Department has finished its investigation into how its SWAT commander handled a report of an active shooter.

Sgt. Ryan Winningham of Muncie Police Department’s Professional Standards reviewed an August 11, 2022 incident at the Baymont Inn.

The investigation found SWAT Commander Jeff Pease was justified when he fired his rifle into a hotel door, but he should have given a verbal warning before firing.

WRTV Investigates obtained the 8-page investigation report, Pease’s body camera footage and a clip of surveillance video through a public records request.

Pease Footage

“The lack of a verbal warning created chaos and confusion,” read the report.

WRTV Investigates reported in November that the gunshot created confusion at the scene among officers who initially thought an active shooter had fired.

 On August 11, Ball State University Police, Muncie Police officers, and the Eaton Police Chief Jay Turner responded to a report of an active shooter at the Baymont Inn.

Baymont Inn

“Suspect is wearing all camouflage, supposed to have a long gun,” an officer said on the radio.

“He fired eight shots and they think he is armed with an AR-15,” a dispatcher said on the radio.

Officers set up a perimeter and began looking for the active shooter both inside and outside the building.

But officers could not find an active shooter inside or outside the hotel.

Minutes after arriving on scene, you can hear a gunshot on the body camera recordings.

At the time of the gunshot, police officers, hotel staff and hotel guests were inside the Baymont Inn.

“Shots fired, shots fired,” an officer shouted. “We have shots fired!"

WRTV Investigates obtained surveillance video from inside the hotel. It has no sound but shows SWAT commander Jeff Pease shooting the door and then clearing the glass with his foot.

Initially, officers believed an active shooter fired a weapon.

  • Officer: Signal nine everyone. It was Pease.
  • Officer: What the f*** was he thinking?
  • Eaton Police Chief Turner: I have no idea. He’s f****** lucky he didn’t get shot with what he’s wearing.
  • Officer: Who broke the window?
  • Eaton Police Chief Turner: That was the f****** shot fired. I don’t know what he was doing. He didn’t tell any of us. I was right there.
Pease footage

Ball State Officers also appeared frustrated.

“That freaked me out when he blew the door, man,” one officer said.

“Yeah, you could have told us!” another officer responded.

“How about you at least say, ‘I’m making entry, man?’” another Ball State officer asked.

The Ball State Officers continued to talk to each other and question why they were not warned.

“They could have announced they were going to do the flash bang, because I was up there,” a Ball State Police officer said. “I thought shit just turned real.”

A police report later revealed the shooting “suspect” was actually a worker with a caulking gun who was fixing a window.

In our story last fall, WRTV showed a damaged door, but Pease shot a door on the northeast side of the building, according to the report.

WRTV Investigates reviewed the body camera footage of Jeff Pease, but the video did not start until after he fired the gunshot and started searching the hotel.

After he shot out the door, Pease’s body camera showed police escorting a couple with a young child out of the hotel.

According to the report from Professional Standards, Pease was not given an all clear or any other information that would have indicated the threat had been neutralized.

Professional Standards noted Pease used his rifle to breach the glass door in a manner that is accepted practice in response to this type of incident, read the report from Sgt. Ryan Winningham.

“Commander Pease is observed visually clearing the area prior to firing the shot,” read the report. “The projective was fired at a 45-degree downward angle into a concrete floor. Doing this stopped the projectile from traveling further into the structure.”

The investigation found while the use of a rifle to breach the door was justified, Pease should have given a verbal warning prior to the shot.

Muncie Professional Standards also noted that it would have taken too long for Pease to run back to his vehicle to retrieve breaching tools.

Pease was not disciplined.

In the body camera footage obtained by WRTV, Pease and Muncie Police Chief Nathan Sloan have a conversation at the hotel.

  • Pease: Just so you know, I shot a door.
  • Sloan: Ok.
  • Pease: I found myself on the east side of the building. There was no entry, so I said f*** it. Phew. I shot it and got in. It’s destroyed, but it’s glass.
  • Sloan: Nobody's dead?
  • Pease: No. It was a pretty good response I think.

In December, Sloan spoke to the Muncie City Council about the incident.

“Was this reasonable? Given the information yeah,” Sloan said. “The only fault I find, should a warning have been given on the radio? Yeah. We'll own that."

Sloan said 75% of active shooter victims are shot in the first 90 seconds.

“Seconds matter,” Sloan said.

WRTV has sent multiple requests to Chief Nathan Sloan, but he has not agreed to speak with WRTV on camera.

“I wouldn’t even be up here if people would just call me, stop into my office, send an email,” Sloan told the council. “I'm happy to answer questions."

Muncie Police’s body camera policy that was in place at the time states officers should start recording “when receiving a call for service and prior to arrival at the scene."

It’s unclear whether Muncie Police investigated whether Pease violated the city’s body camera policy by not capturing the early parts of his response, including the gunshot.

“The beginning of the video has not been clipped or edited,” Sloan said in an email to WRTV. “It was merely started late due to the tense and rapidly evolving situation. This is not necessarily unusual in law enforcement as officers are constantly bombarded with processing numerous forms of information and performing various complex tasks while trying to protect the public and themselves.”
 
Sloan said Officer Pease submitted a timely report that detailed his actions and this was supported by the subsequent investigation.

“We have seen the negative results of officer hesitation and inaction,” Sloan said in an email to WRTV. “We have also seen the positive effects of immediate officer intervention that saved lives. As you previously stated, the review found that this officer acted in good faith and there was no discipline necessary.”