Photojournalist Arrested At Crime Scene; Two Police Officers Shot, Suspect Shoots Himself
(Story update: The Tribune reported on January 18 that managing editor Jim Robertson and photojournalist Don Shrubshell met with the Boone County prosecuting attorney, Kevin Crane, and the arresting officer and the officer’s sergeant. Crane said he would not pursue charges against Shrubshell for being inside a restricted zone while walking to his car. Shrubshell is quoted in the Tribune’s story as saying, "It was somewhat of a misunderstanding on both sides.")
COLUMBIA, MO – As police in Columbia, MO, worked Tuesday to unravel a two-day incident that left two of their officers shot and seriously wounded by a young male suspect, who in turn mortally wounded himself with a shot to the head as he was chased,Columbia Daily Tribune staff photojournalist Don Shrubshell, 49, found himself under arrest at one of the incident’s two crime scenes on the west side of town.
Police claim that Shrubshell "entered a cordoned-off crime scene" along Columbia’s Worley Street where police were searching for evidence and that Shrubshell was arrested on "suspicion of obstructing a government operation," the newspaper reported. The Tribune quotes Columbia police officer Todd Smith as saying Shrubshell was "interfering with our investigation." The charge is a misdemeanor under Missouri law punishable by up to six months in jail and a $500 fine. The Tribune said officer Smith said that Shrubshell had been told several times to stay behind the taped-off area. (Photograph at bottom of the story.)
The man suspected of shooting both officers, Richard "Rick" T. Evans, 23, died Tuesday evening at University Hospital in Columbia. TheTribune reported that one officer is recovering "very well" but that the other officer's outlook "remains critical" following several surgeries.
"I think tension was running high among the Columbia police following two officers who were shot on Monday night and Tuesday morning," Shrubshell told News Photographer today. "I approached the crime scene and came upon officers who were diverting traffic from the scene. There was no crime scene tape strung before I approached the top of the hill – which was about one and a half blocks from the crime scene, which was at the bottom of a hill. A Columbia police officer told me to get back behind the police car, which I did. Another officer began to string police tape across the road."
"I asked if there was a public information officer available and an officer yelled it was too early for that. Officer Todd Smith told me not to take pictures and moved in front of me to block my view. He was about six feet away from me on the other side of the newly strung police tape. I asked him to not block my view. I moved a few feet to the right and he would also move to be in front of me. I moved to the left and he moved again to block my view. I turned to walk away from the officer and walked down the hill. I circled around to find another way to the crime scene that didn't have crime scene tape," Shrubshell said.
"I walked through the yards of some nearby apartment buildings and found detectives working the crime scene. I took a few pictures from a woman's back porch. At that time there was no crime scene tape on the side of the crime scene that I approached. I began talking to neighbors to learn what they heard or saw. When I walked back to the area of the crime scene the cops had strung tape on the side where I was taking pictures from."
The setting that Shrubshell was trying to photograph was the location where a bizarre incident that started on Monday evening on a neighborhood street ended on Tuesday morning in the backyards of homes. Police said that on Monday night officer Molly Bowden, 26, made a traffic stop in a residential neighborhood. The driver, Evans, talked with her and handed over his license and registration, police said, before pulling out a gun and shooting at her.
Videotape from a camera in Bowden’s squad car apparently shows Bowden retreating from the gunfire and trying to take cover behind the suspect’s vehicle as he comes out of the car and shoots twice, wounding her. Then the suspect walked over to her behind the car to where she was already down on the ground and fired two more shots at her at close range before he got back in his car and fled the scene, police said. Neighborhood residents saw the police car sitting with its flashing lights on, then saw the wounded officer lying in the road. The civilians used the car’s police radio to tell the dispatcher that the officer had been shot.
Officer Bowden remains in critical but stable condition following several operations for multiple bullet wounds in her neck and shoulders, Columbia's police chief said Tuesday. She was wearing body armor, the chief said, but the wounds to her neck and shoulders were all above the area covered by the vest. She is married to another Columbia city police officer, Corey Bowden.
A manhunt for Evans followed the shooting and it ended Tuesday morning when police spotted him returning to his parent’s home in Columbia. Police officer Curtis Brown, 36, chased Evans as he ran through the backyards of neighborhood homes. Police said Evans fired once at officer Brown, hitting him in the upper right arm. Evans then turned the gun on himself and fired one shot into his head. Officer Brown is in stable condition following surgery on his arm and recovering well, the Tribune reported. Evans died at 4:50 p.m. as a result of the self-inflicted gunshot.
Shrubshell’s arrest marked the second time in as many weeks that a Missouri photojournalist has been arrested while on the job. On New Year’s Day, St. Louis Post-Dispatch photojournalist Gabriel Tait was arrested while photographing an auto accident on Interstate 70 in the St. Louis suburb of Berkeley, MO. The Post-Dispatch reported that Tait’s face was slammed against the hood of an emergency vehicle as he was handcuffed and arrested, and that police said Tait was arrested for "failing to follow orders given to him by officers at the scene."
Yesterday morning in Columbia at the backyard crime scene where officer Brown was shot and where Evans shot himself, Shrubshell was trying to take pictures of the investigation and had not yet been arrested. "About 15 minutes later (after the yellow tape went up) other members of the media found their way to my position and began videotaping. None of the officers had a problem with that and they were aware of our presence. After several minutes of photographing the crime scene I circled the scene, staying outside of the yellow crime scene tape," the photographer said today. "I took more pictures from another angle – still outside the crime scene tape. I began to leave the area to go back to my car."
"I did not enter the taped off crime scene where detectives were looking for shell casings. I stayed outside the crime scene tape as did other members of the media," Shrubshell explained to News Photographer. "There was a yellow police tape about two blocks from the crime scene to keep people from going down the hill to the crime scene. I did not cross that tape. I approached the crime scene from a northern direction and found the initial crime scene with tape around it. I took pictures and soon other members of the media found me and followed. We were all outside the crime scene tape."
"I was leaving the crime scene by walking directly away from it when I topped the hill and saw that the first crime scene yellow tape was still up and no officers were around it. No officers were at the top of hill where officer Smith had been standing in front of me. I was more than two blocks from the crime scene headed to my car when the officer yelled at me while he was returning to the top of the hill. He yelled at me to stop. I really don't think he knew I had already been to the crime scene with other media and that I was returning to my car. He grabbed me and escorted me a few feet to the crime scene tape that blocked the road."
The Tribune reported Tuesday that at least seven reporters and photographers were interviewing neighborhood residents and covering the scene from behind the yellow police tape in a multi-block area when Shrubshell was arrested. The newspaper reported that officer Smith escorted another police officer into the sealed area and then turned around to see Shrubshell inside the perimeter as the photographer turned and began walking away. The newspaper story says Smith said he told Shrubshell that he was under arrest, but that Shrubshell continued to walk away. Smith told the Tribune that he caught up with Shrubshell and physically stopped him and, along with two other officers, arrested him.
"Two other officers appeared and they began to arrest me," Shrubshell said. "I called my photo editor, Brian Kratzer, to tell him I was being arrested and was told to lay the phone on the ground. I did so and Kratzer listened as I was arrested. The cop was really upset and told me to set my camera gear on the ground. As I tried to lay the camera bag down he jerked the camera from over my head, hitting me in the side of the head. I told him he didn't have to hit me with my own camera and he said it was an accident. I was taken to the police department and booked."
"I honestly think the cop had no idea that I was already at the crime scene and was leaving the area when he arrested me. In 25 years of photojournalism I’ve run into a few less-than-professional cops, as I think everyone has who’s in this business. But most of the cops I have worked with here in Columbia are nice guys and give me the space to do my job."
On Tuesday the Tribune’s managing editor, Jim Robertson, was quoted in the paper’s coverage of the shootings and in a story about the photographer's arrest as saying that he didn’t have enough information yet to judge whether Shrubshell’s arrest was appropriate. "It’s an unfortunate incident, and we’ll look at what we could have done differently," Robertson said. By Wednesday, Robertson took a more solid position in defending the staff photographer. "Shrubshell was doing his job," Robertson said in the paper's story today. "He was leaving the scene, so obstruction seems unlikely. He won't be disciplined."
Boone County prosecuting attorney Kevin Crane told Tribune staff writer Chuck Adamson on Wednesday that he hasn't reached a decision about filing criminal charges against Shrubshell. Adamson also said that his office has not yet received a police complaint from the arresting officers.