Officers cleared in fatal shooting

WARREN — The two Howland police officers involved in a February fatal shooting in the Howland Giant Eagle parking lot have been cleared of any wrongdoing after an investigation by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation.

Trumbull County Prosecutor Dennis Watkins said no charges will be filed against Howland police Chief Nick Roberts and Assistant Chief Jeffrey Urso, who were involved in the fatal shooting of Richard Latimer, 34, which occurred about 9:30 p.m. Feb. 7.

“This case will not be presented to the Trumbull County grand jury as there is not a scintilla of evidence — let alone probable cause – to believe that any officer committed a crime that night,” Watkins stated in a news release.

Latimer was killed by multiple gunshots while sitting inside a vehicle in the grocery store’s parking lot on East Market Street following the killing of Van Blevins, 44, at his home on Main Street in Weathersfield earlier that evening. Police were searching for Latimer after his wife called 911 and said she saw him shoot Blevins. Latimer was shot by Roberts and Urso, who went to the parking lot to look for Latimer after being tipped off that he was in the area.

Witnesses told investigators Latimer was told numerous times to the drop the weapon.

Watkins gave details of the Feb. 7 events involving Latimer in a 20-page document that was released Aug. 30. Leading the BCI investigation was special agent Albert Bansky.

“The officers involved gave Richard Latimer every opportunity to drop the firearm he used to kill Van Blevins. Instead (he) gave the officers no choice other than to shoot and kill him when he endangered the officers and others in the parking lot of a public grocery store by raising a loaded firearm,” Watkins wrote.

According to Watkins’ report, two-and-a-half hours prior to Latimer being killed, he had broken into the Weathersfield home of Van Blevins and killed Blevins and attempted to kidnap his estranged wife, Candace Latimer, and her 9-year-old daughter.

Watkins states the events actually began in the early morning hours of that day when Howland police were called to a Mines Road home for a domestic violence report. The 911 caller was a woman from New Mexico, who is the daughter of Candace Latimer. According to the report, a responding Howland officer learned Latimer was accused of head butting the woman during an argument about a man she had contacted via social media.

During questioning of Latimer, the report states, the girl was becoming upset so officers had Latimer go outside. As officers went to handcuff Latimer, he ran off. Attempts to track him to another Mines Road home had failed, the report states, and Candace Latimer and her daughter went to stay at her friend Blevins’ home on Main Street in Weathersfield.

About 7 p.m., Latimer broke through the back window of the Weathersfield home and killed Blevins, the report states, and attempted to kidnap the two females. According to the report, Latimer said he was going to burn the house down and directed the females to get in her car, and he would meet them outside. The woman was able to escape with her daughter and call 911 with a borrowed phone from a Taco Bell, a few miles away in Austintown.

As Howland police secured a warrant for Latimer’s arrest, the report states Latimer contacted two friends, who did not want to give him a place to stay. Later in the day, this couple made contact with Latimer and arranged for a meeting at the Howland Giant Eagle parking lot. The couple put their cell phone on their vehicles’ Bluetooth system so that Weathersfield Police could hear the conversation with Latimer, the report states.

When they arrived at the parking lot, the couple then went up to Latimer’s vehicle, and the report states Latimer put a gun to his own head saying he was not going to jail. When Latimer pulled the weapon, the couple began running away from the vehicle. As they were running, they said they heard numerous gunshots.

“I find after a thorough review of the BCI investigation, including photographs, security video, forensic evidence, medical records, personnel file of the officers and a complete review of this incident that these officers were without question responding to an ongoing violent situation and shot an armed and aggressive assailant who had within a span of less than 24 hours had committed domestic violence against his wife, escape, aggravated burglary, aggravated murder, aggravated robbery, attempted kidnapping of his wife and daughter, tampering with evidence and other crimes,” Watkins wrote.

Watkins states Latimer’s actions and words that day were consistent with characteristics of someone trying to commit “suicide by cop.”

Watkins’ report states Latimer had an extensive criminal record spanning two decades, including numerous assault convictions, carrying concealed weapons, esacpe, receiving stolen property, failure to comply, passing bad checks and theft.