SWAT officers cleared in June 6 shooting

A Jonesboro Police Department patrol car. Photo by Stan Morris.

JONESBORO, Ark. – Prosecutor Scott Ellington has cleared officers involved in the shooting death of Jay Clem.

Here is his letter to Arkansas State Police:

Dear Lt. Rhoads:

RE: June 6, 2019 Jonesboro Police Department Officer Involved Shooting

On June 06, 2019, Special Agents with the Arkansas State Police (ASP) responded to 3106 Barnhill Road in Jonesboro in reference to an officer involved shooting. ASP Criminal Investigation Division were requested to investigate the officer involved shooting by Jonesboro Police Department (JPD) Chief Rick Elliott. Upon arrival, Agents learned on June 05, 2019, Jonesboro Police Officers and Craighead County Deputies initially responded to the residence after they were informed that Jay Michael Clem had shot his mother Lottie Wheeley. Mrs. Wheeley was transported to the St Bernard’s Medical Center for treatment of her injuries. Upon initial arrival of the responding JPD officers and county deputies, they observed Clem walking around outside the front of residence with a handgun. They initially established verbal contact with him from a safe position, but Clem walked back inside the residence and remained there. An arrest warrant was issued for Clem for shooting his Mother and a search warrant for the property was obtained by JPD.

Jonesboro negotiators attempted to communicate with Clem for approximately four hours without success resulting in the Jonesboro S.W.A.T. team deploying chemical munitions inside the residence. Clem exited the back door of the home brandishing a handgun and fired at the officers east of the residence. Jonesboro officers returned fire, striking Clem, who fell off the porch onto the ground. As other members of the S.W.A.T. team moved in to secure Clem, they shouted commands to Clem to show his hands. Clem appeared to be searching for the handgun, which he picked up and pointed the gun in the direction of the Officers, at which time Officers fired, mortally wounding Clem. Multiple rounds were fired from the S.W.A.T. team members.

The scene was turned over to the Arkansas State Police Criminal Investigations Division and a crime scene search conducted by Special Agents. The body of Jay Michael Clem was located on the ground by the rear porch of the residence with a Taurus .9 millimeter pistol loaded with six .9 millimeter (mm) cartridges next to his body. A spent .9 mm casing was located in close proximity to the body on the ground; one .9 mm shell casing was on the back porch and one just inside the back door way of the residence and one .9 mm casing inside the back bedroom. Another spent .9 millimeter casing and one live .9 millimeter cartridge was on the floor inside the living room area near the front door of residence. Clem’s body was transported from the scene and submitted to the State Medical Examiner’s Office in Little Rock for an autopsy.

On Friday, June 7, 2019, ten JPD officers who were involved in the shooting and others who witnessed the shooting were interviewed by ASP Special Agents and provided statements consistent with evidence gathered at the scene and video review.

Based off evidence gathered at the scene, witness accounts and video footage, Clem initiated the confrontation forcing officers to respond with deadly force. Arkansas Section 5-2-601 (b)(2) allows the use of deadly force if the officer reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to defend himself or a third person from what he reasonably believes to be the use – or imminent use – of deadly force. Officers had probable cause to believe that Clem had recently committed a violent crime against his mother, and obtained both an arrest and search warrants. Negotiators tried to have Clem leave his home and surrender to arrest peacefully. Officers tried over four hours of negotiation before deploying chemical means in order to force Clem to leave the building. He left the building with a gun in his hand, and fired it at the officers on the scene. Given that Clem had fired his weapon in the direction of officers, the initial return fire that knocked him off the porch was justified. When the officers approached Clem and commanded him to show them his hands, he disobeyed, instead reaching for and raising his weapon toward the officers once more, thus causing the officers to once again fire in self-defense, as well as in defense of the officers next to them. I find that the officers were reasonable in believing that their life as well as the lives of their fellow officers were in danger when they discharged their service weapons.

It is my preliminary finding that no prosecution will follow in this case. This matter will remain an open investigation until all evidence from the Crime Lab, including the autopsy and toxicology report, has been completed and made part of this file.

– Scott Ellington Prosecuting Attorney 2nd Judicial District

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