See a VIDEO of Capt. John Kucer of the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office explaining the events surrounding the shooting at Offutt Air Force Base Monday afternoon.
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The man who was shot and killed Monday by an Offutt Air Force Base security guard was trying to use his car as a battering ram to smash through a barricade and escape after a wild, 10-minute car chase across the base.
The security guard, who is a federal civilian employee, deemed that the man was a danger to nearby Offutt personnel because he was using his car as a weapon, said Brig. Gen. Donald Bacon, commander of the Air Force's 55th Wing, which controls base operations.
“I'm not going to second-guess him,” Bacon said of the security guard who pulled the trigger. “I put myself in his shoes. That suspect is bottled in, he's using his car to hit objects . . . the security force member perceived the threat to himself and to others.”
A grand jury will soon have a say on whether the killing was justified.
The man's identity was released Tuesday afternoon. He was identified as Zachari M. Johnson, 21. His last known residence was in Lincoln.
Sarpy County District Attorney Lee Polikov said he would convene a grand jury, which will determine whether there was criminal wrongdoing during the pursuit and shooting. Under state law, a grand jury is convened any time someone dies in custody or while police are trying to arrest someone.
It's exceedingly rare for someone to be shot and killed in an attempt to flee from police in Nebraska, said Clarence Mock, a longtime Omaha-area defense attorney who has practiced in federal courts for more than 25 years.
“It's definitely out of the ordinary,” Mock said. “Especially without some indication that the person fleeing had independently (been) using firearms himself, or there was no other alternative way to apprehend the suspect.”
Gen. Bacon, the 55th Wing commander, said he had no indication the man was a member of the military.
The chase began off the base about 3:15 p.m. Monday, when sheriff's deputies tried to pull the man over on U.S. Highway 75 because they suspected that the blue Honda sedan he was driving was stolen, said Sarpy County Sheriff Jeff Davis.
Instead of stopping, the driver sped away. Deputies, joined by Bellevue police officers, pursued him to Offutt.
Offutt officials became aware that a chase was heading their way just seconds before the man reached the base's Main Gate, where thousands of cars enter and exit the base daily, Bacon said.
The man swerved around the line of cars at the gate, entered a empty lane used to check semis and other trucks, and then squeezed the Honda through a narrow gap between that lane and the front car in line, Bacon said.
Offutt leaders had the option and the ability to use lethal force at the Main Gate, Bacon said, but chose not to because of the split-second nature of the incident, as well as the safety of Offutt personnel and other drivers clustered at the gate.
Once on base, the driver made a beeline toward the Bellevue Gate. Three vehicles — an Offutt security force vehicle, a Sarpy County Sheriff's car and a Bellevue police car — closely pursued the man, Bacon said.
Once he realized the Bellevue Gate was closed — all gates were locked down once he entered the base — he made a U-turn and headed toward the Kenney Gate, Bacon said.
There, he was bottled in. The gate was closed. Authorities were still in pursuit. Other security personnel were rushing out to help.
An Offutt security guard stood feet from the car and yelled at the man to surrender, Bacon said.
Instead, the man began to repeatedly ram a barricade with his car — the move that the security guard deemed dangerous to the nearby security officers and police.
The guard shot and killed the man about 3:40 p.m., Bacon said.
It's not surprising a vehicle could crash onto Offutt Air Force Base, the general said. A so-called “gate crashing” happens several times a year, usually the result of a driver who loses focus and forgets to stop at the gate.
Offutt employs a tiered defense system that usually allows such gate crashers onto the base, Bacon said, so long as they aren't immediately identified as a high-level threat. This is done in part because simply shooting at a gate crasher could unneccessarily harm the driver or bystanders, Bacon said.
A new main gate, scheduled to be completed late this year, will help with gate crashing because it will create a curve and a subsequent longer bottleneck, where Offutt security could stop a wayward car, Bacon said.
If a gate crasher does succeed, the tiered defense system calls for an immediate pursuit by base security, as well as immediate, enhanced protection of the base's most important buildings.
That's what happened in this case, Bacon said.
“The gate is not always intended to be a fortress barricade,” he said. “You hope it works the majority of the time, but you have it built so when somebody does penetrate the base, you can respond and be with the intruder the entire time.
“That's what happened yesterday.”
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Capt. John Kucer of the Sarpy County Sheriff's Office explains the events surrounding the shooting at Offutt Air Force Base on Monday.