Report critical of Oneida County Sheriff's Office after shooting death of Deputy Kurt Wyman
The Oneida County Sheriff's Office has released a report that is critical of how deputies handled the June 2011 standoff in which Deputy Kurt Wyman was killed.
The report was written by a committee of police chiefs, who were brought in by Oneida County to perform an independent study of the incident.
Wyman was one of the first deputies to respond when Christian Patterson's girlfriend called 911 and said he had made threats to kill her and himself. Patterson's girlfriend told police he was in their house on Knoxboro Road and that she believed Patterson had several shotguns at the house.
When Wyman arrived, Patterson was inside the home's garage with a shotgun. Wyman initially tried to convince Patterson to surrender but a standoff ensued and the Oneida County Emergency Response team and a negotiator took over the scene.
At one point, the Emergency Response Team commander instructed Wyman to be prepared to use his taser on Christian Patterson but not to take action unless he was told to. Several hours into the standoff, Patterson took one hand off his shotgun and officers fired what are referred to as "Less Lethal" rounds into his chest. Patterson was knocked down but still held onto the shotgun. The report says Wyman then crossed in front of other deputies with his taser unit held out, and ran towards the garage. The main negotiator yelled "No" at Wyman, but he continued towards the garage. Christian Patterson turned the shotgun towards Wyman and fired, hitting him in the neck. The wounds were fatal and Wyman died shortly after.
The report cites numerous problems with the every stage of response by the Sheriff's Office, including the lack of a clear chain of command. The administrator who was made tactical commander had not been a member of the Emergency Response Team for some time and did not train with the team. The report says the Emergency Response Team commander did not do any meaningful tactical operations planning.
"Supervisors and more experienced deputies should not hesitate to take charge and coordinate the response while en route over the radio. Bruised egos are secondary to ensuring the most effective. efficient and safest response possible."
Some deputies had only infrequently trained with equipment that was used at the standoff. Two pairs of night vision goggles were available, but never used since no one had trained with them.
Poor communication between leadership and Emergency Response Team members is cited several times in the report. The report also questions if the leadership at the scene fully realized that while Patterson appeared suicidal, he was also a threat to try and kill responding officers.
"Many of the members interviewed indicated they were not comfortable with their proximity to an armed subject but they admitted failed to pass their concerns on."
When the decision was made to fire less lethal rounds at Patterson, a coordinated plan was not communicated to deputies inside the inner perimeter.
"Even members that were aware of it were not sure what the specific plan was on what should happen when the less lethal rounds were fired."
Emergency Response Team members were not equipped with tasers, so Wyman had to stay inside the inner perimeter of the scene. Earlier in the standoff, Wyman had been told to be ready to deploy his taser is ordered by the Emergency Response Team commander. Wyman then drew his taser and "laser pointed" it at Patterson until he was immediately told to put the taser away and not draw it unless the commander called for him to use it. The report says Wyman's misunderstanding of the earlier command was "disturbing" and may have been an indicator that Wyman was not the appropriate person for that role. Wyman had not trained with the Emergency Response Team.
When the less-lethal bullets knocked Patterson down, the report says the rapid escalation "...put Deputy Wyman in a high state of arousal, apparently leading him to subconsciously react in a split second, This decision, while most likely based on his desire to end the standoff with little or no injury to Patterson, turned out to be a tragic mistake, made without cognitive processing of the full implications of the potential danger."
The report also discusses a long list of improvements made by the Oneida County Sheriff's Office after Wyman's death, including more training, improved equipment and a better defined command structure for critical incidents. Sheriff Rob Maciol says the county recently approved spending $750,000 on an armored vehicle and a mobile command center.
Wyman's father said the report had some surprises for the family but they did not read it to assign blame. Brian Wyman said he hopes the lessons learned and recommendations from the report can help police departments across the country.
"There's no changing, there's no knowing some of the things that were going through my sons mind at the time, the decisions he made," said Wyman.
Patterson was convicted in February 2012 of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, criminal possession of a weapon, and harassment. He is currently serving a life sentence for his role in Wyman's death.