Prosecutors will not charge two Olathe police officers who shot and killed a 58-year-old man in June while he was experiencing a mental health crisis, Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe announced Tuesday.
“It is my finding and determination that the two Olathe officers were justified in their use of force that resulted in the death of David Sweet,” Howe said during a press conference.
“These are all tragic situations, ones that no one wants to see happen, but the offices acted in accordance with state law and that is my findings here today.”
Prior to the press conference, Howe met with Sweet’s family and discussed his findings, providing them with additional information and answering their questions, he said.
The Johnson County Officer Involved Critical Incident Investigation Team, which is comprised of members of several area law enforcement agencies, investigated the June shooting.
Around 5:43 p.m. on June 3, an Olathe police officer conducted a traffic stop near Santa Fe and Water streets, when Sweet pulled up in a gray Ford Fusion traveling in the opposite direction, Howe said.
Dash cam footage played at the news conference showed the Ford stop next to the officer’s vehicle, back up and then turn its wheels and drive toward the police car. The officer started to get out of his vehicle when Sweet drove away.
Howe said the officer called for another officer as he continued to work on traffic citations. He did not recognize Sweet from previous encounters. The officer said Sweet appeared to mouth some words to him during the interaction, but he couldn’t hear Sweet because their windows were up.
A few minutes later, dash cam footage showed Sweet pull up to the traffic stop again. Body cam footage showed the officer approach Sweet’s vehicle and ask if he can help him with anything. Sweet responded, “Yeah,” and unfolded a lock-blade knife.
While backing away, the officer told Sweet several times to stay in his car and not move.
The officers drew their guns, and Sweet’s car door opened. Sweet exited the vehicle and both officers instructed him to drop his knife and get on the ground.
Two shots were heard before the body camera footage stopped.
The officers fired a total of nine times at Sweet until he fell to the ground, Howe said. Eight bullets hit Sweet. He was pronounced dead at the scene as a result of his injuries.
Investigators recovered shell casings from the officer’s weapons and a folding knife found next to Sweet’s body from the scene.
When he fell, Sweet was about 9 to 10 feet away from the officers, Howe said. According to their training, officers consider a suspect a threat if they’re within a 21-foot distance.
In speaking with Sweet’s family and friends, Howe said it was clear Sweet had dealt with serious mental health issues for years.
“These officers did not know Mr. Sweet, did not know that he had potentially mental health issues,” he said.
Chief Mike Butaud said Olathe police officers are trained to help people experiencing mental health crises, and said both officers had completed crisis intervention training.
The situation, in which an unknown person approached officers during a traffic stop with a weapon, was unusual, forcing his officers to act by shooting Sweet, Butaud said
“Even the best trained and best prepared police departments cannot fully guarantee this type of outcome will never happen,” he said.
Quiet, kind man
Two friends who knew Sweet for decades from an addiction recovery group previously said he was a quiet and kind man, who dealt with mental health issues.
One of the members, Edward Rogers, said Sweet had moments where his demeanor changed drastically, and he became anxious and paranoid. Someone who lived with Sweet in the early 2000s said at one point he made sure all the doors were locked because he thought animals were attacking the home.
But it had been some time since Sweet seemed that paranoid, Rogers said. In their conversations over the last decade, Sweet sometimes complained about family issues, but he appeared to be doing well.
Most of the time, he was “a really nice, harmless guy.”
“He tended to be, with me at least, almost over-complimentary,” Rogers said. “There was never any cross words between us or anything like that.”
Sweet’s killing was not the first time Olathe officers used deadly force against someone having a mental health crisis.
In several previous cases, the officers involved also did not face charges, after multijurisdictional investigations reviewed by the Johnson County prosecutor also determined those shootings were justified.
In May, prosecutors decided not to file charges against an Olathe officer who shot and killed 27-year-old Brandon Lynch on Dec. 31, while he was experiencing a mental health crisis. Lynch’s mom said Olathe police knew of her son’s history of schizophrenia and had helped him other times the family called officers to the house.
In 2018, Olathe officers shot and killed Ciara Howard after a standoff, despite being warned by their own SWAT teams that it would be risky to try to enter the house to arrest the mentally distressed woman, who had an outstanding warrant for walking away from the county’s adult residential center.