In a wheelchair, without the use of his legs or his left hand, Monroe Evans III calmly and quietly told a judge Tuesday that he was sorry for shooting an Omaha police officer near Turner Park in January 2017 — a single shot that grazed the officer’s ankle and prompted officers to fire 12 times in return.
Evans said he took “full responsibility” except that, “in my defense, I was under the influence” the day that officers responded to a report of a man trying to break into cars.
His attorney, James Martin Davis, had urged the judge to take into consideration that his client is now “crippled” and “imprisoned in his own wheelchair.”
Then came the sentence. Judge Horacio Wheelock sentenced Evans, 22, to the equivalent of 13 to 25 years in prison.
Sheriff’s deputies went to escort Evans to prison. He snarled at a sergeant: “(Expletive) off,” he said.
“What’d you say?” the sergeant asked.
“You heard me.”
Then he was pushed into the hallway.
“On my hood,” Evans shouted, “(expletive) all you (expletives).”
He continued hollering until deputies pushed him into an elevator.
[Read more: Omaha police and man exchange gunfire in park; man was hit multiple times, officer struck in lower leg]
Onlookers were left to reconcile the contrast between the docile and defiant sides of Evans. His parents, Monroe Evans Jr. and Joan Evans, said their son had graduated from Omaha North High School and had no record of violence. Monroe Evans Jr. tearfully told a reporter afterward that he would have tackled his son as he left the house that morning, had he known what was going to transpire.
“It was the last time I saw him on his feet,” his dad said. “I will tell you I am so grateful the officers weren’t seriously hurt.”
The officers at the scene pointed out the other side of Evans’ personality. That day — Jan. 30, 2017 — at the park in midtown, his brandishing of the gun was purposeful, his words pointed, they said. Their description countered some previous accounts that Evans may have mistakenly fired his weapon during a struggle.
“I’m going to start popping,” he called out, according to the officers. Then he shot Officer Jill Schillerberg. Schillerberg fired back once. Her partner, Omaha Police Officer Matthew Skradski, fired 11 times.
The shooting paralyzed Evans. It traumatized the officers.
In excerpts from letters read by the judge and attorneys, the officers described how many cops spend their careers hoping they don’t have to pull their duty weapon, all the while realizing they might have to.
Schillerberg described difficulty in relationships and in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Skradski described how he has a hard time sleeping, how he doesn’t think he’s acting any differently, but how his wife and children have had to deal with his “fluctuating” moods. He said he has become quieter and more withdrawn, a person who would rather stay home than go out.
“From my first day as a police officer almost 17 years ago, I knew I might have to make a split-second life-or-death decision,” Skradski wrote. “But I always hoped that maybe that was not my fate.
“As much as I would like to believe that I have not changed that much, it is evident to my family and friends that things are not the same anymore. This is not my fault or theirs.”
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Evans’ attorney, James Martin Davis, said he didn’t question the officers’ justification in shooting Evans. However, Davis did question the extent of the officers’ injuries — and whether they truly were suffering from PTSD.
Schillerberg “had a hematoma — a bruise,” Davis told the judge. “She was in the hospital for an hour and a half.”
Davis mentioned his military service in Vietnam, where he engaged in gunbattles. And he noted that he was a Secret Service agent, where he knew he might have to kill as part of his job.
“I’ve never claimed to have PTSD,” Davis said. “You don’t take a situation and magnify it in order to magnify (my client’s) penalty.”
At one point, Davis questioned whether Skradski committed overkill by firing at Evans 11 times — comparing it to the 36 shots that Omaha police fired upon a suspect at an Omaha Wendy’s restaurant in 2014. “That’s a lack of fire discipline,” Davis said.
Davis noted that he once wrote a book on police raids, based on his Secret Service years.
At that, a gallery member uttered: “Who cares?”
Davis also urged the judge not to overpenalize his client to try to appease several officers and family members who packed the courtroom.
“Judges aren’t pep squads for police unions,” Davis said.
[Read more: Man who’s paralyzed after being shot in confrontation with Omaha police pleads not guilty to 4 charges]
Judge Horacio Wheelock rejected any criticism of officers’ behavior that day — or their reaction to the trauma since. He noted that Schillerberg and Skradski had no choice but to respond to reports that a man, believed to be Evans, was attempting to break into cars near 33rd Street and Turner Boulevard.
He noted that they were confronted with a man who pointed a gun at Schillerberg and fired.
“The actions of the officers were appropriate at all times; in fact, they were heroic,” Wheelock said. “For whatever reason, you wouldn’t put the gun down. They appropriately kept firing until the threat was neutralized to them and to the people around them.
“Unfortunately, it is 100 percent your fault that you are in a wheelchair. Those are tough words, and not words I take lightly. But I think they have to be said.”
Based on information provided by Nebraska prison officials, Wheelock said, Evans will be housed in a medical unit and, when he is in bed, will be on an air mattress and his body will be rotated every two hours to prevent pressure sores.
After months of recovery at Madonna Rehabilitation Hospital in Lincoln, Evans returned to Omaha and stayed with his family before Tuesday’s sentencing. His parents said they are worried about the kind of care he’ll get in prison but are hoping for the best.
“I told him that if I had known anything that morning about what was going to happen,” Monroe Evans Jr. said, his voice cracking, “I would have tackled you.
“You know, he made a choice. He’s suffered. We’ve suffered. And obviously other people have suffered, too.”
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