MCALESTER, Oklahoma – After numerous requests, a CNHI paper in eastern Oklahoma has obtained law enforcement video and audio that detail January's fatal police shooting of James Klembara a week after a district attorney cleared two of the three officers involved.
Officers initiated a wellness check at a McAlester home Jan. 14 before arriving to see Klembara behind the screen of his front doorway holding a rifle pointed at the ground. Officers told Klembara 34 times in less than two minutes to put down his gun — including after the man fired a shot into his home’s floor — before he raised the rifle and officers fatally shot him with at least three shots to the chest and one to his face.
The McAlester News-Capital requested Jan. 16 through the Oklahoma Open Records Act the police body camera footage, 911 calls, dispatch logs, and other records that showed the events leading up to Klembara’s death.
District 18 District Attorney Chuck Sullivan announced March 1 McAlester Police Officer Eli Copeland and Krebs Police Officer Corey Cantrell were justified in their use of force. He did not make a decision regarding McAlester Police Officer Joseph Barlow, the third officer involved in the shooting, due to his Native American status. Barlow’s involvement in the shooting is being reviewed by U.S attorneys for the Eastern District of Oklahoma.
Most of the requested public records, including video and audio, were released this week after the News-Capital’s legal representation contacted the city of McAlester again.
A dispatch log shows a woman called 911 at 8:17 p.m. March 1 asking for “somebody to go check on” Klembara.
“He is having a mental breakdown and he is suicidal,” the woman told the dispatcher. “I don’t know if he is armed. I’m scared.”
The woman tells dispatch that Klembara had not been drinking and that the last time she spoke with him was 45 minutes prior to the 911 call.
The dispatcher got more information then told the woman he would send somebody over.
A call sheet report shows Barlow was dispatched at 8:18 p.m. to a residence on the 1900 block of Green Meadows Drive in McAlester to conduct a welfare check on Klembara.
“Unknown weapons. He is sober,” the dispatcher told Barlow.
Barlow then asks dispatch for another unit to accompany him to the residence because “he’s not too fond of us.”
Dispatch called for Cantrell to assist Barlow at the residence.
A body-worn camera assigned to Barlow shows him and Cantrell arriving at the residence at 8:24 p.m. with Klembara standing in his doorway behind a screen door.
Barlow said “Hey James” and a flashlight is pointed at Klembara and the doorway.
Officers are not heard in the video identifying themselves as they approach the residence.
“He’s got his hand behind his back,” Barlow said before asking Klembara what’s in his hands twice.
Klembara told officers to turn the light off and Barlow repeated they were there to check on him.
The man yelled at the officer to “back the f*** up” before turning and showing a rifle in his hand.
“He’s got a weapon,” Barlow said before backing up and drawing his pistol and telling Klembara to put the gun down.
Officers started telling Klembara to put the gun down and the man fired a single shot downward toward his home’s floor.
An officer told dispatch that shots were fired and that “he fired at us.” Dispatchers then asked any available units to assist at the residence.
Officers advanced toward the doorway after Barlow said Klembara was walking away from the doorway and an officer told him again to put the gun down.
“Is anything pointed at you?” Klembara said. “No, back up.”
Officers told Klembara they wanted to help him with Klembara responding “no you ain’t. All you try to do is give people charges.”
Klembara then raised the rifle toward the officers with all three quickly firing multiple rounds at him through the screen door.
Officers told Klembara 34 times in a span of one minute and 43 seconds to put the gun down before the shots were fired.
The officers entered the home and handcuffed Klembara before beginning to render aid to the man. Medics with the McAlester Fire Department arrived at the residence at 8:29 p.m.
Barlow’s video is the only one of the two MPD provided to show the incident as Copeland’s jacket and his arms while raising a service pistol obstructs the view. Barlow’s coat and arms do obstruct portions of the video, but does not obstruct the shooting.
When asked about the obstruction caused by the coats, McAlester Police Chief Kevin Hearod said the department is working on a policy to resolve the issue.
“That’s been addressed and policy will be changed,” Hearod said.
Sullivan initially filed a motion to quash the request before withdrawing after the city of McAlester’s denial rendered the motion moot.
Hearod said Copeland will remain on administrative leave until a mental health professional clears him to return to active duty, as per the department’s policy.
The police chief said U.S. Attorney Christopher Wilson told him a decision on Barlow could come as soon as this week.
Requests for comment from Wilson’s office were left unreturned as of Tuesday, March 7.
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