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Ponderosa Police Involved Shooting
Februray 26, 2018
For Immediate Release
Newport News, Virginia
The Newport News Commonwealth Attorney’s Office has completed its review of all available evidence from the April 29, 2017 shooting of Mr. Caleb Jackson, Jr. As part of the investigation, the Commonwealth’s Attorney, along with members of his office, conducted interviews with police officers, forensic scientists, and civilian witnesses (in particular Ralph Patrick, Kimberly Patrick, and Albert Jones).
Virginia Law requires us to analyze the facts surrounding an officer’s use of deadly force through the eyes of the officers involved.(1) Therefore, we examine this incident by considering what the officers knew in the moments leading up to the shooting, and whether it was reasonable for the officer who discharged his firearm to believe that there was an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others.
SUMMARY OF THE FACTS
In the early morning hours of April 29, 2017, Newport News Communication Center received a 911 call from Mr. Caleb Jackson, Jr. who said he was barricaded inside The Ponderosa Bar & Restaurant (“the Ponderosa”), located at 5832 Jefferson Ave., and that he believed that people were “after him” and were going to break into the bar to attack him. Jackson advised he had a gun, and then began yelling incomprehensibly before the call was disconnected.
Jackson arrived at the bar earlier that morning with Albert Jones. Jones was a bar-patron well known to Ponderosa employees and who sometimes assisted them with after-hours cleaning and stocking. Before coming to the Ponderosa that evening, Jones and Jackson had been to Virginia Beach where they spent time walking along the oceanfront boardwalk. Ultimately, Jones decided to come to the Ponderosa to help the bar employees clean up after closing. The two men returned to Newport News in Jackson’s car. On the way to the Ponderosa, Jackson stopped at the McDonalds Restaurant at the intersection of Mercury Boulevard and Jefferson Avenue in Newport News. While there, Jackson got out of the car and met briefly with an unknown individual before returning to the car and driving himself and Jones to the Ponderosa.
Although the bar was closed for the evening and the employees did not know Jackson, they let Jones and Jackson in through the back door of the bar. Jones explained to the two Ponderosa employees that Jackson was a friend of his, and introduced them. There were friendly exchanges between Jones, Jackson, and Ralph Patrick, an employee of the bar. The three men had a drink together as Kimberly Patrick, Ralph’s wife, continued cleaning up and preparing to go home.
As Jones and Jackson were leaving the bar, Jones reported that Jackson “just snapped.” Jackson pulled out a gun, started cursing at Jones, and snatched a cell phone from Jones’s hand. Jackson then fired the gun. Jones dropped to the ground as Jackson continued ranting. Mrs. Patrick ran into the kitchen area to hide from Jackson. Jones reported that Jackson had “gone off like a schizophrenic” and that his eyes were “as big as saucers.” Jones tried to get Jackson to calm down. However, Jackson would not listen and continued yelling and waiving the gun around. Jones remained on the ground. Jones reported that Jackson was the only person inside the Ponderosa with a gun, and that after he went to the ground, he could no longer see what Jackson was doing, but he could still hear him.
At this point, Jackson called 911 and advised that he was barricaded inside the Ponderosa. He stated that he believed people were “after him” and were going to break into the bar to attack him. Jackson advised he had a gun, and then began yelling incomprehensibly before the call was disconnected. The Communications Center immediately called back. Someone picked up the call, but did not speak to the dispatchers or respond to their questions. During this call, Jackson could be heard in the background yelling about people breaking in and attacking him with guns. Before the call was disconnected again, the police dispatchers heard four gunshots.
The Communication Center then called the landline telephone of the Ponderosa, and Mr. Patrick picked up the phone. He advised that there was a man in the business firing a gun, and that the man was the only person who had a gun. Patrol officers arrived outside the Ponderosa but were unable to gain access. When Patrick attempted to get to the front door to let police into the building, Jackson fired two more shots. Patrick told dispatchers he had been shot in the chest by one of those shots. Jackson continued firing as Patrick begged police to bust the door down, saying, “please come in and save my life.” Patrick told dispatchers he was “laying here dying” and that he was “hiding in a corner of the bar.” Patrick can be heard telling Jackson that he did not have a gun, that no one else had a gun, and pleading with him to stop firing.
Patrol officers heard gunshots coming from inside the building. They were unable to get inside without specialized equipment to breach the secure external doors of the Ponderosa. The patrol officers took positions surrounding the building and called the tactical unit. This unit was equipped to force entry into the business and rescue the three hostages inside. Patrick, who remained on the phone with the Communication Center, said he was bleeding a lot from the gunshot wound to his chest, and was feeling lightheaded. He said he would die if police did not enter and rescue him.
The tactical unit quickly assembled near the Ponderosa to plan their entry. Due to the urgency of the situation, team members were equipped with minimal protective gear and only one active body camera worn by Detective Vito. When they arrived at the Ponderosa, the tactical unit employed a specialized breaching tool in an attempt to break through the reinforced safety-glass doors and enter the building. This tool proved to be ineffective. A breaching shotgun was then fired several times at the door before the weapon jammed. Sgt. Bartley kicked the glass until it dislodged from the frame. Sergeant Perry Bartels entered first followed by other members of the tactical unit. After Sgt. Bartels entered the exterior doors, he encountered a short hallway and another interior set of glass doors, which led directly into the bar. As he looked through those interior doors, he observed a man matching the description of the shooter holding a silver handgun. Sgt. Bartels saw the man darting in-and-out from behind an interior door at the back of the bar, and told the team “I see him.” Sgt. Bartels then observed the gunman square up his shoulders to face him and raise his gun to his waist. Sgt. Bartels fired three shots from his rifle, striking and killing the gunman who was identified as Mr. Caleb Jackson, Jr. Medics examined Jackson, and pronounced him dead at the scene. None of the hostages were armed, and no firearms were located at the Ponderosa other than the one Jackson possessed which was located on the floor next to his body. Because Detective Vito was the last tactical team member to enter the building, his body camera was not in a position to capture the shooting on video.
As the remainder of the tactical team entered, they discovered Patrick in a corner behind the bar, bleeding from the gunshot wound to his chest. They also located the other two hostages, Albert Jones and Kimberly Patrick, and escorted them to safety. Jones had been hiding facedown behind a jukebox, and Mrs. Patrick was still hiding in the kitchen when police found her. Medics entered, treated Patrick, and then transported him to Riverside Hospital. Patrick survived his injuries.
After police rescued the hostages, forensic technicians collected evidence and photographed the scene. They recovered a Strum Ruger 9mm Pistol from the floor near Jackson’s body. The pistol still had nine PMC 9mm Luger rounds remaining in the magazine, and one PMC 9mm casing jammed in its ejection port. Technicians also recovered seven spent PMC 9mm Luger cartridge cases inside the Ponderosa. As technicians examined the area around Jackson, two bullet holes were located between the men’s and women’s bathroom doors on the east wall, behind where Jackson had been standing in the moments just before he was shot.
The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner performed an autopsy on Jackson, and it was concluded that his death was caused by a “single penetrating gunshot wound entering his cheek and injuring the cervical spinal cord at the second cervical vertebra.” Toxicology tests ordered by the Medical Examiner and performed by the Department of Forensic Science revealed that Jackson had Ethylpentylone present in his blood.
Connie Luckie, a forensic toxicologist with the Virginia Department of Forensic Science, advised that Ethylpentylone is a synthetic stimulant that can cause paranoia and hallucinations. It is not available over-the-counter and has no legitimate therapeutic use. Sometimes referred to as “bath salts,” Ethylpentylone technically belongs to a class of drugs known as “synthetic cathinones.”(2) Synthetic cathinones are central nervous stimulants designed to mimic effects of cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA (ecstasy).(3) “Effects that have been reported from the use of these drugs include psychological effects such as confusion, acute psychosis, agitation, combativeness, aggressive, violent, and self-destructive behavior as well as paranoia, hallucinations, and delusions.”(4)
When a police officer has probable cause to believe that a suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm to others, he may use deadly force to prevent that harm. Couture v. Commonwealth, 656 S.E. 2d 425, 427 (Va. App. 2008). An officer’s use of deadly force is justified when he perceives an imminent threat of serious bodily harm to himself or others. Lynn v. Commonwealth, 499 S.E.2d 1, 9 (Va. App. 1998); Couture, 656 S.E.2d at 427. Therefore, we analyze the circumstances by considering what Sgt. Bartels would have reasonably believed in the moments just prior to discharging his department-issued rifle.
Sergeant Bartels has been a Newport News Police Officer for 23 years. For the past 20 years, he has been a member of the Newport News Police Department’s Tactical Response Team. He is an instructor for the SWAT team, and previously served in the U.S. Army. Before making entry to the Ponderosa on the morning of April 29, 2017, Sgt. Bartels and other members of the tactical team had been listening by police radio to the information being relayed from the Communication Center. Prior to entering the Ponderosa, patrol officers briefed members of the tactical team, giving them all the information they knew at the time. As Sgt. Bartels entered the Ponderosa, he knew there were three hostages inside, multiple shots had been fired, and that Mr. Patrick was bleeding from a gunshot wound to the chest. The fates of Mrs. Patrick and Mr. Jones were unknown at this time. Patrick had told dispatch that the shooter, Mr. Caleb Jackson, Jr., was the only person in the building with a gun. The tactical unit’s entry to the Ponderosa had been very loud due to the need to utilize a breaching tool, a breaching shotgun and kicking in the reinforced safety glass doors. As Sgt. Bartels looked through the interior set of glass doors, he saw Jackson with a gun in his hand. He observed Jackson darting in-and-out from behind a bathroom door at the back of the bar. Based upon his training and experience, it appeared to Bartels that Jackson was furtively looking around as if searching for a target. Jackson then squared his shoulders to face Bartels and raised his gun. Sgt. Bartels fired three shots through the interior glass doors, killing Jackson.
Physical evidence at the scene corroborates the accounts given by Sgt. Bartels and the three hostages. Specifically, that when he was shot, Jackson was standing by the bathroom doors on the east end of the building near the back of the bar, holding a 9mm handgun, which was still loaded with nine additional rounds of ammunition. Technicians located spent shell casings of the same brand and type inside the bar. The hostages’ accounts of what occurred were consistent with each other and with the portions of the 911 calls that were heard by dispatchers, indicating that Jackson had “just snapped” and began acting erratically. All of the hostages confirmed that no one else in the bar was armed.
Based on these facts, it is clear that Caleb Jackson, Jr. posed an imminent threat of serious physical harm to the three hostages inside the bar, and to the police officers attempting to rescue them. Therefore, Sergeant Bartels’ use of deadly force in the tragic death of Mr. Jackson was justified by the facts and the law. This office will take no further action in this matter.
(1) Couture v. Commonwealth, 656 S.E. 2d 425, 427 (Va. App. 2008).
(2) Drugs of Abuse, A DEA Resource Guide, Pages 86-87 (2017 Edition), https://www.dea.gov/pr/multimedia-library/publications/drug_of_abuse.pdf#page=86.
(4) Id. at 87; See also, Journal of Analytical Toxicology, Volume 41, Issue 4, 1 May 2017, Pages 342–346.