DuBose killing justified, DA finds

Athlete overpowered 2 cops, Pfingst says

By Kelly Thornton


November 2, 1999

SAN DIEGO -- Two San Diego police officers were legally justified in fatally shooting former professional football player Adolphus Demetrius DuBose, the district attorney announced yesterday in a case that has raised protest in the African-American community. Most of the 21 witnesses interviewed by authorities confirmed the officers' statements that DuBose seemed under the influence of drugs, wrestled with and overpowered the officers and seized one or both of their nunchakus martial arts weapons before moving to further attack the officers.

One witness said DuBose -- who was shot 12 times, including five times in the back -- was fired on as he walked away on a Mission Beach street July 24. However, ballistics evidence cannot prove which bullets were fired first or whether DuBose turned or was spun by the force of the slugs.

"Virtually all witnesses who observed the shooting agree that Mr. DuBose took the officers' weapons, and turned and faced the officers," District Attorney Paul Pfingst said in a letter to Police Chief Dave Bejarano. "Many stated he was swinging the nunchakus. Several saw him advance on the officers."

No criminal charges

Pfingst's decision means that no criminal charges will be brought against Timothy Keating and Robert Wills, the two white police officers whose shooting of the former Notre Dame star and member of the Tampa Buccaneers sparked a series of protests and allegations of racial bias.

"I'm real confident that race absolutely had no part in the shooting," Bejarano said yesterday. "I'm very satisfied with the investigation. All of the (witness) statements are very consistent with the statements made by the officers and the witnesses themselves."

The incident was so controversial that Pfingst made the unprecedented gesture yesterday of posting the 368-page report on the shooting, along with the 14-page letter he wrote to Bejarano explaining his findings, on a Web site, www.co. san-diego.ca.us/da.

The report contains transcripts of interviews with witnesses and officers, plus autopsy results and a toxicology report indicating that DuBose, 28, had cocaine, the drug "ecstasy" and a small amount of alcohol in his system when he died.

The district attorney's decision triggered more heartache and anger for some, relief and vindication for others.

African-American leaders, many of whom have questioned whether the shooting was racially motivated, said yesterday that they needed time to review the lengthy report and were withholding further comment until a news conference today. In a press release, Urban League President John W. Johnson indicated that black leaders would not let the matter drop.

'Continue to protest'

"(We) feel strongly that we must continue to protest the continued killings of African Americans under the color of authority," Johnson said. "Questions about whether the chief will take action against the officers involved will be important to begin the healing."

DuBose's mother, Jacqueline DuBose-Wright of Oklahoma, declined to comment. She has filed a federal lawsuit contending that her son's death resulted from excessive force by police. Her attorney, Brian Watkins, said DuBose-Wright was "disappointed but not shocked" by the decision, which he criticized as biased. "It's very one-sided and makes me question whether or not this was a neutral investigation," Watkins said. "There's not one shred of evidence in this report that's adverse to the officers."

Watkins said he had located three witnesses -- two of whom he said have not been interviewed by police -- who said DuBose did nothing to provoke the shooting and had his back turned when the officers opened fire. The lawyer said he was keeping their identities private at their request.

Unique witness

One of the three witnesses is Rita Yancher, 42, the lone observer police spoke with who said the officers shot DuBose as he walked away. She said he was twirling the nunchakus, "jiving down the street, almost dancing like . . . he was swinging the sticks, like, it was like, 'I'm cool.' "

Pfingst said he discounted her version because Yancher contradicted herself in three interviews.

Fellow officers rallied around Wills and Keating yesterday. Bob Rex, vice president of the San Diego Police Officers Association, said the association is pleased with the district attorney's decision. "Mr. DuBose made a choice not to cooperate with the officers," Rex said. "He made a choice to resist their efforts to take him into custody peacefully. . . . The eyewitnesses at the scene clearly vindicated the actions taken by the officers."

In Seattle -- where DuBose grew up and excelled as an athlete -- confusion and sadness resurfaced in the wake of the district attorney's findings. Monte Kohler, football coach at Bishop Edward O'Dea High School, which DuBose attended, said he still could not make sense of the death.

'A great leader'

The DuBose he knew was "a great leader, a great human being," Kohler said. "It doesn't add up," he said. "He didn't do anything to die for." According to the transcripts, reviewed by the Union-Tribune, witnesses and officers gave this account: On the last day of his life, DuBose lost four games of volleyball at a tournament in Ocean Beach and returned home with his roommate and business partner, Randy West, 29. While West worked at his computer, DuBose climbed onto a neighbor's balcony and fell asleep in a bedroom. The resident, Charles Flynn, was startled when he found DuBose.

Said Flynn: "I said, 'You've got to get out of here.' He said, okay. He then said, 'I was just watching the ocean and this is really pretty comfortable . . . He seemed dazed as if . . . He appeared to be under the influence of drugs or alcohol. "He told me, 'I can go now, if you want.' And I told him it was a good idea . . . I thought I should call the police regarding this man's behavior."

While standing outside with Flynn, DuBose and West were trying to smooth things over with Flynn when police arrived.

Burglary reported

The officers had been dispatched to what was believed to be a burglary in progress. Flynn pointed out DuBose as the suspect, and Keating told DuBose to sit on nearby stairs, which he did. Keating asked DuBose whether he had been arrested before. DuBose, mumbling, replied yes, for controlled substances. "When he (mumbled), the only way I could describe it is the hair on the back of my neck stood up, because I realized that he was under the influence of PCP. " . . I'm getting that feeling that something's not going to go right," Keating later said.

Both officers described DuBose as strangely calm and sedate, with a blank stare looking past the officers. Wills said he had the same reaction as his partner. "I just decided, you know, I'm going to handcuff this guy, I don't want him running or fighting with us because he's on PCP or whatever," Wills recounted to investigators.

Wills had taken out his pepper spray and told DuBose that he was going to handcuff him. "The guy starts saying, uh, 'What did I do, I didn't, I didn't do anything,' " Keating said.

Roommate disagrees

(West, DuBose's roommate, said yesterday that he disagreed with the district attorney's summary, which said the officers were not "belligerent or confrontational" while questioning DuBose. "They didn't see him as a reasonable, intelligent person," West said. "They wanted to treat him like some sort of animal." DuBose simply wanted to know why he was being handcuffed, West said.)

DuBose then refused to be handcuffed and walked away. Wills doused DuBose with pepper spray, which had no effect on him. Keating jumped on DuBose's back as he left, trying to subdue him.

"He takes off running now as I'm literally on top of his back trying to get him into a carotid restraint . . . I'd say we ran maybe 10 to 15 yards maybe, and he leans forward and reaches back and grabs me by my shirt and just throws me off (from) on top of him, throws me off, and I land on the ground," Keating said. "I believe I hit a cement planter box." Wills picked up the pursuit. "I can hear my partner striking the subject with his (nunchakus)," Keating said. "I can hear the whack, whack, whack, whack."

Fighting stance

In pursuit of DuBose, the officers turned the corner, heading north on Mission Boulevard, and DuBose was there, "all bulked up in a fighting type stance, you know, legs planted on the ground," Keating said.

Wills and Keating alternately struck DuBose with their nunchakus. "I was hitting him as hard as I could hit somebody with those nunchakus. I was trying to drive every ounce of my strength through him, and it was having absolutely no effect on that guy whatsoever."

DuBose managed to yank both officers' nunchakus away from them, the officers and witnesses said. As DuBose bent forward with his back toward the officers, Keating drew his gun. "I started screaming at the suspect to drop, drop the sticks, drop the sticks, uhm, he turned and looked at me and there was nothing in his face, it was just a blank nothing there," Keating said.

Keating said DuBose started to advance to within seven to 10 feet and was swinging the nunchakus "like he was going to come and do damage to us . . . He began walking towards us, I yelled at him 'drop the sticks.' He took another step and I began firing at him."

Some disagreement

Witnesses did not universally agree on whether DuBose was swinging the nunchakus and whether he stepped toward the officers just before being shot. However, all agreed that DuBose wrestled with both officers, took at least one of their nunchakus and appeared poised to attack. From the time DuBose refused to be handcuffed until the moment he was shot was less than 60 seconds.

Officials are so concerned about the racial tension connected with the shooting that Bejarano will hold a community meeting tomorrow at O'Farrell Community School, 6130 Skyline Drive, from 6 to 8 p.m. Anyone wishing to voice concern or ask questions regarding the district attorney's findings may call (619) 570-1070.