Recordings show shooting in Niles happened quickly

Tribune Chronicle / Renee Fox Niles Mayor Steve Mientkiewicz, left, and Niles police Chief Jay Holland speak Wednesday at a press conference about the Jan. 2 officer-involved shooting that led to the death of Matthew Burroughs.

NILES — Audio recordings of Niles police and dispatchers communicating in the moments before a man was shot and killed by police officers indicate the encounter turned deadly seconds after officers on foot spotted him.

Police were looking for Matthew Burroughs after a court official reported being struck by his car, and officers feared Burroughs’ car would hit them, the recordings indicate.

The audio recordings, provided Wednesday by Niles police Chief Jay Holland, indicate the officers requested an ambulance seconds after the shots were fired. They also include information dispatchers shared with Niles police officers when Burroughs left the Niles Municipal Court building Jan. 2.

A probation officer was struck by the door of Burroughs’ car as he left the court parking lot, leaving before officers could arrive to arrest him on two active warrants, according to Holland.

Burroughs “started the car and attempted to put the car into reverse, with the probation officer behind the still-open car door. Burroughs managed to get the car in reverse and accelerated, striking the probation officer with the still-open door as he backed up,” according to a statement provided by Holland.

Burroughs, 35, died in his car of multiple gunshot wounds not long after police went to his apartment complex, 53 Royal Mall, to find him.

At 2:33 p.m., the first officers to respond to the apartment complex were walking up to Burroughs’ building. Then, Burroughs pulled into the parking lot with a cruiser behind him, according to Holland’s statement.

At 2:34 p.m. and 30 seconds, an officer tells a dispatcher the man just pulled into the apartment complex. Seconds later, an officer states, “I don’t know if he is going to stop, man.”

Burroughs’ vehicle was driving toward the officers, Holland said. The officers “perceived a threat to their safety and fired their service weapons,” Holland said.

At 2:34 p.m. and 51 seconds, some of the audio is unclear at first, but then an officer states, “Send an ambulance.” No gunshots are heard on the recordings.

A dispatcher asks an ambulance service to respond and shortly after an officer states, “Radio, we need a squad. All of the officers are good. He is not.”

There was no weapon on Burroughs, and police never said there was, Holland said. But the responding officers felt he was using his car as a weapon, Holland said.

The names of the officers are being withheld until the city’s law director, Philip Zuzulo, gives an opinion to the department on whether the two officers’ names should be released before the completion of an investigation being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Holland said. The two officers are on paid administrative leave.

Messages left with Zuzulo at his law office and at the city’s law office were not immediately returned Wednesday. Zuzulo replaced Terry Swauger, who started a job Jan. 2 as a magistrate at the Trumbull County Family Court.

At the completion of the BCI investigation, the Trumbull County prosecutor will decide how to handle the case, Holland said, noting the department has complied with all of BCI’s requests.

Holland said all police officers at the department receive the same annual training as other Ohio police officers through the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy and the department’s use-of-force standards have been given an Ohio Collaborative Law Enforcement Agency certification.

The department hasn’t had a high percentage of use-of-force incidents, Holland said. In 2018, there were 15,320 calls officers responded to, and force was used nine times, he said.

The last two times a Niles police officer fired a gun at a person, it was white men — killing one in 2012 and injuring one in 2018 — Holland said in response to claims on social media that the department is more likely to use force against black men like Burroughs.

Police Capt. John Marshall said the department is thankful the officers in the department have body cameras. The officers at the scene Jan. 2 were wearing working body cameras. The footage is unlikely to be released until the completion of the investigation, which is expected to take months.

Holland said counseling services have been offered to the officers involved.

“There is no officer that goes out to work and says, ‘I want to get involved in a fatal encounter.’ No officer wants that, none that I’ve worked with in 20-plus years,” Holland said. “This affects the officer’s life for the rest of his life. It affects the community’s life, and no officer sets out to get involved in these types of situations. They react to what is presented to them.”

The loss of life is regrettable, Holland said.

“Nobody wanted any of this to happen,” Holland said.