No charges in officer-involved shooting in Homestead

This image taken from the body camera worn by a Maricopa police officer at the scene of the March incident in Homestead shows Officer Carmen Nylander during the fatal confrontation with Lawrence Knudsen [Maricopa Police Department]

The Pinal County Attorney’s Office will not file charges in a fatal shooting involving a Maricopa Police Officer.

Officer Carmen Nylander fired the shots that killed Homestead resident Lawrence Knudsen in the 20000 block of MacNeil Street on March 27, after Knudsen ignored her commands and continued to advance toward the officer with an object in each hand.

“That case was reviewed by our Critical Incident Review Board on July 9th,” Pinal County Attorney’s Office Public Information Officer Michael Pelton wrote in an email to InMaricopa. “It was the Office’s decision that no criminal charges were warranted.”

Arizona Revised Statute 13-410 regarding police use of force reads: “The reasonableness of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight. The calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments – in circumstances that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving – about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation. The test of reasonableness is not capable of precise definition or mechanical application.”

Nylander’s statement to Pinal County Sheriff’s Office investigators confirmed she felt threatened during the incident. Her statement from the investigating officer’s report reads:

“(Nylander) observed him raise and extend his right hand towards her and saw a black metallic object in his hand and thought it was a gun.  She told me she saw a threat, and shot at the threat, and continued to shoot until he dropped. Officer Nylander told me ‘I was afraid he was going to shoot a gun at me,’ (and) ‘I was afraid he was going to kill me and my partners.’ Officer Nylander told me she was ‘100 percent’ in fear for her life.”

Given the statute and the results of the PCSO investigation, Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer said his office determined that Nylander acted within the law.

“The most pertinent statute was section C-1 (of A.R.S. 13-409) which reads: ‘The use of deadly force by a peace officer against another is justified pursuant to section 13-409 only when the peace officer reasonably believes that it is necessary…to defend himself or a third person from what the peace officer reasonably believes to be the use or imminent use of deadly physical force.

“Officer Nylander said unequivocally in her interview that she was afraid for her life,” Volkmer continued. “So, in order to charge her, we would have had to prove that what she said, and her grasp of the situation, were unreasonable.”

Knudsen, 56, had called 9-1-1, informed an operator he was outside his home armed with a handgun and told her to “just bring them,” referring to police. He met officers on the street outside his home.

Video of the incident shows an agitated Knudsen advancing on Nylander as she repeatedly yelled, “Back up! Back the (expletive) up!” He continued to advance with his hands in the air, holding an object in each hand. Nylander fired four shots at Knudsen from 6 to 8 feet away.

Nylander can be heard uttering an expletive as Knudsen fell to the street and began to moan.

Just as Nylander fired, Officer Timothy Nye fired his Taser at Knudsen. A third officer, Irene McCorry, also responded but did not discharge a weapon.

Knudsen was transported to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

Volkmer said video from Knudsen’s doorbell camera confirmed that he had a gun on the tailgate of his truck prior to the shooting.

The PCSO investigation showed Knudsen was holding a vape pen and a cell phone in his hands when he was shot. He had told the 9-1-1 operator that he had a handgun on the tailgate of his pickup truck, that it was close to his right hand, and he was right-handed, according to the video, which included portions of several 9-1-1 calls. As he walked toward police, the gun remained on the truck tailgate.

“The gun was on the tailgate to his immediate right as he was sitting on the tailgate of the truck before the officers arrived,” Volkmer said. “When the police got there, he did not pick up the gun when he started running toward (Nylander).”

Because the incident resulted in a death, Maricopa police requested that an outside law-enforcement agency conduct an independent investigation of the use of force.

Knudsen was on the phone with the 9-1-1 operator several times leading up to the fatal shooting, the video showed. In his initial call to 9-1-1, he told the operator, “Nobody’s listening to me. I’m about to put a bullet in my head.”

Several times, he hung up and the dispatcher called him back.

Knudsen later told the operator that he would be confrontational with police if they approached him. In an earlier conversation, Knudsen said, “I’m not looking to hurt any cops, OK?”

Later, Knudsen told the operator, “Just bring ‘em. Bring the (expletives),” and, “Let’s do this.”

Volkmer said that entire chain of events was factored into the decision not to charge Nylander.

“What the video of the incident doesn’t show is all the information that took place before the officers arrived on the scene,” Volkmer said. “There were many calls in which he was threatening to commit suicide or harm officers. Then when they got there and were confronting him, he rolled his hand over and made a move consistent with someone ready to discharge a weapon. If you look at the video, you see a large black thing in hand with a silver tip that is consistent with the look of the barrel of a pistol.”

Volkmer also said when his office reviews the body camera and other video footage, they cannot view it through the lens of knowing Knudsen had a gun. It has to viewed through the eyes of an officer on the scene.

“We cannot say we knew at the time of the review that you knew it was a vape pen. We have to try to view it through the lens of an officer dealing with the situation in real time because that’s what they had to do and how they had to react in real time,” Volkmer said. “We have to look at it without the knowledge of the fact that it wasn’t actually a gun in his hand.”

Any departmental discipline for Nylander is pending an administrative investigation, which is being handled by Tempe Police, according to MPD chief James Hughes.

“We waited until the conclusion of the criminal investigation, and when we get the declination letter from the county attorney that they are not pressing charges, then the administrative investigation begins,” Hughes said. “Tempe PD is working with MPD on this because they have a larger agency that deals with more of these kinds of cases than we do, so we felt they were an appropriate partner.

“That is in process now. They just do fact-finding, they don’t make recommendations on discipline. My staff and I will determine whether any internal department policies were violated.”

Hughes said he hoped that process would not take longer than a month or two, “but Tempe is a busy department. We are appreciative that they are able to assist us on this one.”