The Tahlequah Police Department on Friday released the body camera footage of Monday’s officer-involved fatal shooting, and Police Chief Nate King said it shows officers acted courageously.
On Oct. 7, officers responded to a domestic dispute involving a firearm. Geneva Vaughn had called 911 after her ex-husband, Bobby Lee Vaughn, pointed a loaded handgun at her.
“I told him he had to put the gun up,” Vaughn told 911. “He wouldn’t put it up; I told him at least give me the magazine. He loaded it, cocked it, and pointed it at me.”
Among the officers who arrived at 902 S. State Ave. within minutes were patrolmen William Jacob Robertson and Bronson McNiel, and Detective Chris Boals.
“Within about five minutes, there were 12 of us total there. I was one of those officers on scene prior to police using deadly force,” King said Friday. “It was a tense situation, to say the least.”
McNiel spoke to the ex-wife, who was out by the street as other officers went to the door. One went to the front porch to back up fellow officers after the woman said Vaughn had a Colt .45.
Officer Steven Smith was first to enter the house, and his body camera footage shows he yelled for the suspect to come out with his hands up. He continued to shout and Vaughn could be heard saying, “OK.” But a few seconds later, a gunshot rang out, and Smith responded quickly with “Shots fired!” Officers retreated and Smith repeatedly called for Vaughn to come out and talk.
“Vaughn replied and said, ‘Don’t shoot me,’ and Smith responded, “OK, step out and show me your hands,'” said King. “Vaughn said, ‘I’m not going to do that.’”
Smith could hear Vaughn “raking his gun” and backed away from the doorway. King said the other officers were in positions that were “vulnerable if shots rang out." The officers took cover behind patrol cars, where they covered the front door and front windows of the house. They continued to communicate with Vaughn.
By this time, King was on the scene, and he called Cherokee Nation Marshals SWAT Team for assistance.
King released body camera footage from Robertson, who was hunkered down behind a patrol car. Vaughn approached the doorway and began to raise his handgun toward the officer. In the footage, officers are heard yelling, “He’s got a gun!” and telling him to drop his weapon.
Robertson is then heard saying he has a shot, while the other police were trying to get Vaughn to drop his weapon. They continued to plea with him and told him everything was going to be OK.
Five shots were fired from Robertson, McNiel and Boals, and Vaughn retreated back into the house. Officers didn’t see Vaughn collapse and said they didn’t know whether they had shot him.
“Best we could tell from the evidence collected at the scene and the video itself, there are five distinct shots there – four by pistols and one by AR 15 or 223,” said King.
Around 4:30 p.m., the SWAT team arrived and took over tactical operations, while city officers maintained a perimeter around the house. Crisis negotiator Cory Keele was on a speaker for over an hour, pleading with Vaughn to come out with his hands up.
The SWAT team began to shoot tear gas into the house to force Vaughn out. King said they were concerned he was “fortifying” himself inside or was going to create more danger for officers.
“Marshal Service shot tear gas for quite some time until we were satisfied we had no other option but to make entry into the residence,” said King.
Around 6 p.m., when the SWAT team went to place their camera-equipped robot in the front door, they found Vaughn lying in the floor, “mortally wounded.” They cleared the house and EMS pronounced him dead.
King said two weapons were lying next to Vaughn: a semi-automatic and a shotgun.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation was summoned to the scene. Once the probe is complete, a report will be turned over to District Attorney Jack Thorp, who will determine whether the shooting was justified. The three officers remain on administrative assignment until Thorp reaches a decision.
“I was on scene for this, and between that and the body camera footage, I’m proud to be these guys' boss,” said King. “I think they acted courageously, maintained their poise and patience in a situation that was very tense.”
King confirmed officers have had prior encounters with Vaughn. One incident involved a domestic assault and the other was a welfare check wherein he was in possession of a gun. In July 2017, he was arrested for domestic abuse in the presence of a minor child. Geneva said they had gotten into a fight when he hit her with a closed fist.
In September 2017, Vaughn was arrested again after officers found him asleep behind the wheel of a car. During that incident, Officer Keele had Vaughn step out of the vehicle when he noticed him reach down for a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm pistol in the door pocket. Keele said said the gun didn’t have a magazine in it but it did have a round in the chamber.