A shooting that left Joseph Lamasters, a 42-year-old Iowa man dead in Sumner County on March 4 will officially not result in any charges against the 52-year-old South Haven man that pulled the trigger.
Sumner County Attorney, Kerwin Spencer announced on Friday afternoon that he feels the citizen was not violating the law when he shot an unarmed Lamasters, who had warrants for his arrest in Iowa for probation violation.
"The 52-year-old gentleman was in a pretty difficult situation, he had to be concerned not only for his own safety, but for the safety of his son as well," Spencer said. "If he was sure the suspect was just going to flee past him, he might not have shot, but he had a lot of things to think about...as the guy was getting within eight to 10 feet of him, and he chose to shoot." Spencer cited two Kansas statutes: K.S.A. 22-2403, and K.S.A. 21-5228.
K.S.A. 22-2403 reads: Arrest by private person. A person who is not a law enforcement officer may arrest another person when:
(1) A felony has been or is being committed and the person making the arrest has probable cause to believe that the arrested person is guilty thereof; or
(2) any crime, other than a traffic infraction or a cigarette or tobacco infraction, has been or is being committed by the arrested person in the view of the person making the arrest.
"Here was have an active warrant for a fleeing suspect who had been in a stolen vehicle and made a criminal threat to our 52-year-old citizen just before the shooting," Spencer said. "Telling the person to stop at gun-point amounts to a lawful citizens arrest."
K.S.A. 21-5228 reads: Same; private person making arrest.
(a) A private person who makes, or assists another private person in making a lawful arrest is justified in the use of any force which such person would be justified in using if such person were summoned or directed by a law enforcement officer to make such arrest, except that such person is justified in the use of deadly force only when such person reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent death or great bodily harm to such person or another.
(b) A private person who is summoned or directed by a law enforcement officer to assist in making an arrest which is unlawful, is justified in the use of any force which such person would be justified in using if the arrest were lawful.
"It's my considered opinion, as the suspect was coming towards him, and simultaneously making a threat of bodily harm to our 52-year-old citizen, it was reasonable for him to conclude that his safety and the safety of his son were in jeopardy," Spencer said. "The law does not require for him to wait and see if [the suspect] would attack him, wrestle him for the gun, or run past him."
Page 2 of 4 - The chase was on for Lamasters in the late morning on March 4, just after 11 a.m.
"A white man with a beard and a mustache gave the toll attendant an I.D. as Joseph Lamasters," Spencer said. "...He had no money to pay his toll of six dollars, seventy-five cents, the attendant directed him to pull to the side and wait." As the attendant began to write down the tag number, Lamasters took off, swerving towards the south.
"Our speculation is he was swerving to make it more difficult to write down the tag number," Spencer added. One Kansas State Trooper was positioned south of the turnpike interchange, not the Wellington interchange, and another trooper was north of there.
"We've got a trooper south of there faced with the decision, 'do I drive this direction and run the risk that he's going to pass me there? Or do I cross the turnpike and wait for him to come to me," Spencer went on. "He chose to cross the turnpike and wait..." The north trooper began heading southbound, discovering Lamasters had driven his vehicle off the road, abandoning it in a hedge row. Lamasters never reached the trooper positioned to the south. Later, it would be discovered that the vehicle was stolen, but had not yet been reported.
Based on the I.D. given at the toll booth, warrants for Lamasters arrest were found.
"He had some prior convictions, including a firearms conviction on his record," said the Sumner County Attorney. From there, the Highway Patrol and the Sumner County Sheriff's Department launched a manhunt, that included a helicopter from the highway patrol.
Law enfacement officers were searching the area of 140th Street South near the turnpike, looking for the suspect and advising residents to be on the look out.
"The actual shooter in this incident said he was in Arkansas City at the time, received a phone call from another farmer who had been told by one of my deputies...to be on the lookout," said Sumner County Sheriff, Darren Chambers.
At approximately 5 p.m. the 19-year-old son of the eventual shooter tells his father that he sees a pedestrian. they both arm themselves with shotguns and call 911. About 10 minutes later, while Sheriff's deputies make their way to the scene, the South Haven residents call 911 again.
"Saying the suspect was on the west side of the turnpike and they would be holding him at gun-point, above from 140th Street South," Spencer said the distance between Lamasters and the locals was "significant" at the time. Then Lamasters ran away.
"He [Lamasters] had commented something to 'I guess you'll just have to shoot me,' as he ran off," Spencer reports. "They showed the good-judgment of not shooting him, because he was not a threat to them at that point in time." Law enforcement arrived, and began pursing in the direction the suspect went.
Page 3 of 4 - After that, the father and son went next door to check on their relatives property.
"They were concerned that their cousin's wife would be home alone, as it turns out, she wasn't there, no one was home," Spencer explained. Once at the cousins' property, the situation escalates.
"The father checked the house, found the house was secure, the son checked the shed, and the outbuildings," Spencer said. "By coincidence the father was coming up to the outbuilding where the son had just emerged from." The son hollered at his dad, saying the man was in the shed.
"The father, stepped in front of his son, saw in fact this suspect was in the shed, amongst a pile of discarded, dog food bags," Spencer said. "He told him 'stop, stay there, the police are coming.'" Lamasters jumps out of hiding and comes towards the father and says...
"'You don't want to [expletive] with me, I'll kill you,'" recited Spencer. Lemasters began his approach towards the father, getting to within eight to 10 feet. The son was calling 911 when the father fired. According to the son's statement...
"He said his dad was afraid for his safety, and fired the shotgun and the suspect went down," Spencer said.
"Interviewed separately, he [the father] gave almost exactly the same statement," Spencer added. "Same words being used, same rendition as to what happened."
Spencer said his only question was whether or not the father had time to call the authorities, rather than approach the suspect in the shed. He was told by detectives that, that was not the case.
"...It was obvious the suspect was aware of their presence, as the son had just loudly told his dad the suspect was there," Spencer said.
The County attorney said that based upon the prior phone calls it was apparent that plan was to have the father hold the suspect at gun-point while the son would use his cell phone to call 911. Spencer added, that it all happened so fast that they didn't get to implement that plan.
"Therefore I have determined that no charges will be brought against our 52-year-old citizen for the shooting," he said. "It's unfortunate the suspect didn't stop as instructed, and it is unfortunate there was not time to call the sheriff to make the apprehension." After hearing the gunshot, and reports from dispatch law enforcement personnel arrived at the scene of the shooting, where Lamasters was no longer alive.
As for setting a president for citizens taking the law into their own hands, County officials do not advocate such actions where avoidable.
"It's best if we can get the trained professionals to deal with the situation," Spencer said.
"I can only take him [the father] at his word that he was concerned about what this suspect was going to do," Spencer said that knowing the suspects intent is impossible. "...[The father] either takes the shot immediately or he risks getting into a wrestling match for the firearm and he loses the advantage he has." The County attorney added that if an officer was on the scene, things may have gone differently.
Page 4 of 4 - "Maybe this guy would have realized that further flight was useless had it been a sheriff's deputy holding him at gun-point,"Spencer said. Lamasters leaves behind a wife and two daughters. Spencer indicated that a civil lawsuit might be pursed by the family.
"The only person who was committing a crime that day was the person that is deceased," Spencer said.
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