Grand Jury: Officers Were Justified In Shooting

CANTON, Ohio (AP) - Massillon police officers were justified in shooting a man to death after he led police on a 12-mile chase and killed an officer, a Stark County grand jury concluded.

Stark prosecutors released the findings Wednesday, the day after the jury met secretly for about two hours.

The panel reviewed forensic information, citizen and police accounts to determine that Donald Matthews, 61, of Jackson Township, initiated a gunbattle Aug. 9 in a grassy, gravel lot in Massillon and that a single bullet from Matthews' gun killed Massillon officer Eric Taylor, 31.

"I think it was clear (the officers) were fired on first, and they had a right to return fire," Prosecutor Robert Horowitz said. "I have complete confidence that the grand jury properly found that there was a justifiable use of deadly force under these circumstances."

Prosecutors said that the firing exchange took 20 to 40 seconds.

Fifty bullets were fired between Matthews, three Massillon officers and a state trooper.

Matthews fired nine shots -- two at Taylor, who never got to his gun.

"It was extremely chaotic out there," Chief Criminal Prosecutor Dennis Barr said. "At first it was hard to understand what occurred."

The chain of events became clearer as the evidence was compiled.

Around 8:30 p.m., a state trooper pulled Matthews over for speeding on state Route 21 in Wayne Country. After Matthews refused to hand over his driver's license, he drove off, heading south toward Massillon.

The trooper began to pursue Matthews, and Massillon police were alerted.

Matthews opened fire at the trooper while still driving as he pulled into the gravel lot.

Matthews shot at the police car Taylor was driving, and the first bullet struck the driver's side mirror and entered the vehicle, sticking in the passengers' side door.

Taylor rushed out of the passenger's side of the car, but was left unprotected when the car -- which was not in park -- rolled away.

Matthews then shot Taylor, who was crouching. The bullet struck Taylor in the left buttock, traveled upward and lodged in his right shoulder.

The trooper and other police officers shot at Matthews.

Prosecutors said it is not clear who fired the fatal shot.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)