For the police officer, the man’s body language was the giveaway. His combative stance and his abrupt hand movement hinted at the possibility of danger.
That possibility snapped quickly into reality Friday night on a south-side street when the man, Daniel Spells Jr., pulled a handgun and shot several bullets at officer Treven Brown at close range, according to a probable cause affidavit filed Monday.
The shots missed Brown, and without drawing his own gun, he managed to single-handedly disarm 33-year-old Spells and handcuff him, police said.
Fort Wayne Police Chief Rusty York lauded Brown as an exceptional officer.
He was very attuned to the evolving situation. To protect himself he reacted quickly and very tactically. Had he not, lethal force would have been appropriate, York said in an email. Mr. Spells should count his blessings.
York said Brown was the 12th Fort Wayne officer this year to encounter a life-or-death situation. The outcomes of those situations have varied dramatically – some ending peacefully and some ending with violence.
In 2013, there have been four deadly shootings by police, all involving multiple officers.
Our officers acted appropriately in every single one of them, the chief said.
In one of the shootings, the Allen County Prosecutor’s Office has ruled that an officer used justifiable force in killing an armed robbery suspect in February in the stairwell of a vacant apartment building. The office has not announced rulings in the other three shootings.
York cannot recall a year with four shootings by police since he became chief in 2000. He hopes this year is an anomaly, but worries a societal change is underway.
We’re seeing more and more guns out there, and more people inclined to use them against police, he said.
York said he did not know how Spells acquired the gun he shot at officer Brown. I know he didn’t have it legally, the chief said.
Spells’ criminal history includes prison time for felony convictions in four separate Allen County cases: cocaine possession in 1999, battery in 2000, resisting law enforcement in 2007 and carrying a handgun without a license in 2010, according to the Indiana Department of Correction.
After Friday’s close call, Brown was given a day of paid leave after which he intended to go on a pre-planned vacation, York said.
Brown became a city police officer in 2005. He has not received any commendations, and last year, he was given a letter of reprimand for a police vehicle accident, according to his personnel file.
In an interview with detectives, Brown gave his version of Friday’s events, which was detailed in the probable cause affidavit.
About 9:40 p.m. Friday, he was driving a squad car to a reported domestic dispute in the 3100 block of South Harrison Street. Over the radio, he heard that the man involved in the dispute had left the scene. Possibly intoxicated, the man was walking on Harrison and wearing a gray shirt and jeans.
As Brown drove, he saw Spells in the 2800 block of South Harrison Street, near West Leith and South Calhoun streets. Spells appeared to fit the description, wearing a light gray or white T-shirt, jeans and a gray hat. He was also stumbling as he walked, which suggested to the officer he may be intoxicated.
Police would later learn that Spells was not the man they were seeking. However, the officer parked, approached Spells on foot and asked his name.
Giving his name as Dan, Spells took a combative stance with his left shoulder angled toward the officer.
The officer asked for identification and Spells provided some, but the officer, concerned about Spells’ body language, did not look at it right away. He watched Spells, instead.
Spells, with his body still angled, quickly put his right hand on his right side. The officer responded by grabbing Spells’ left arm, the one closest to the officer.
Why you grabbing me?! Spells asked, and he pulled away, turning to his right and putting his back to the officer. In the process, he placed distance between himself and the officer.
Spells then pulled a silver .45-caliber handgun from his right side. He kept turning to his right, until he nearly faced the officer.
The officer moved quickly to grab Spells from behind, and Spells fired two shots when the gun muzzle was about a foot from the officer’s shoulder.
With a bearhug from behind, the officer pinned Spells’ arms to his sides and took him to the ground. The officer was on top of Spells, and both of them faced the ground.
As they struggled, Spells fired the gun under his body, but neither man was hit. Spells managed to bring his right arm and the gun from underneath himself, and he took two more shots at the officer.
The officer then clutched Spells’ right wrist with one hand and grabbed the gun with the other hand. The officer tried to grip the slide on the semiautomatic gun, hoping to jam or disable it. But Spells kept firing the weapon until it was empty. This gave the officer minor cuts on his hand.
Once all the bullets were spent, the officer was able to take Spells into custody before backup arrived.
The first two rounds Spells fired hit a passing car, and at least one other shot struck a nearby home. No injuries were reported.
Police said it was not clear why Spells pulled a gun on the officer. He did not have a permit to carry a handgun, the affidavit said. He was on parole at the time, and he had no warrants, jail officials said.
Spells, of the 2100 block of Asquith Drive, was preliminarily charged with felony counts of attempted murder, criminal recklessness, carrying a handgun without a license and resisting law enforcement. He was being held Monday at the Allen County Jail in lieu of $72,500 bail.