Ciara Howard stood shouting
in the small room with a gun in her hand, waving it aimlessly and
pointing it at officers before being shot
By Joe Robertson
The Kansas City Star
OLATHE, Kan. — Ciara Howard’s last act of
defiance was slamming closed the laundry room door that stood between
her and an arsenal of officers determined to arrest her one more time.
in chilling body camera footage obtained after The Star filed a
lawsuit, the lead Olathe police officer forced the door open and
three-plus hours of standoff came to a deadly end for an emotionally
troubled 26-year-old woman with a history of nothing but small,
For 13 harrowing seconds, Howard stood shouting and trembling in the
small room with a gun in her hand, waving it aimlessly at first but at
times clearly pointing it at officers who screamed at her to drop the
The officers opened fire and Howard pitched forward, falling dead on the concrete floor.
Olathe officers and a Johnson County deputy sheriff shot Howard in the
Aug. 23 confrontation, and a review by the Johnson County District
Attorney’s Office determined the shooting was justified.
family members who have seen the video are anguished by decisions police
made to even enter the house, knowing Howard was alone, emotionally
disturbed and had a handgun with her.
Her crime was that she had not returned to a residential center
as required under her probation; she had been charged with a felony of
escape. A call two days later to 911 tipped police that she was at her
boyfriend’s house. Distraught friends and family say she was a threat to
“Ciara was the only person in danger,” her mother, Kathy Arnold, said.
ruling of a justified shooting did not address the police decisions to
enter the house, Johnson County Chief Deputy District Attorney Chris
McMullin told The Star at the time of the ruling.
prosecutor, not a police tactician,” McMullin said. “Our sole
determination is (to assess) were their actions justified under Kansas
law. … We don’t ask, in the spectrum of options police have, did they
choose the best course of action.”
The Star sued the city of
Olathe for body camera footage last month, and the city released this
footage to The Star late Tuesday.
The Olathe Police Department
through a spokesman said it could not comment on the video or the
officers’ actions Aug. 23, because that litigation is still pending.
video, recorded by a camera worn by the Johnson County deputy, shows
how a large team of officers moved in on Howard through the small Olathe
home over the course of some 25 minutes.
Multiple officers and
vehicles had surrounded the house for some three hours before the team
decided to enter the home with a police dog. Howard was in a closed room
at the back of the house.
“Ciara! I need you to go out the back
door and I need you to do it now!” the lead Olathe officer shouted
repeatedly inside the house.
As officers slowly made their way to
the back of the house, the lead officer threatened many times that they
would release the dog, which barked at its handler’s command.
shouts back to officers were hard to hear, often confusing, but
revealed her fear of having to spend time in the county jail.
Near the end, she cracked open the door and barked back at the police dog.
seemed like she was almost delusional,” said Arnold’s husband, Mark
Arnold, who viewed the footage. “She was more like a scared little girl
than someone ready to shoot a police officer.”
officers were standing right outside the door. Howard cursed them and
slammed it shut. The lead officer immediately forced it open and barged
in. Howard, screaming that they weren’t real cops, never lowered the gun
until she was shot.
Officers, in stunned voices, called for
medical help. The Johnson County deputy put on gloves and dragged Howard
into the hallway. He is heard pleading, “Breathe. Breathe, Ciara.
Breathe.” But another officer standing over her recognizes, “She’s
Howard had a history of minor offenses that she frequently
compounded by failing to follow court directives. But court officials
always treated her as a non-violent offender, placing her under
supervision in community settings — urging her to get help for substance
abuse concerns and mental health issues.
Howard was emotionally
disturbed in her final days, her mother said, but Howard also believed
she had a chance to make things better. In letters to Arnold, Howard
shared her plans to marry her boyfriend, build on to their house, find a
new job and go back to school again.
“But she discourages so easily,” Kathy Arnold said.
Howard had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, Arnold said, though that may have not been known to the officers.
for people with mental health concerns have been working with law
enforcement in developing protocols to de-escalate confrontations when
police encounter someone who is emotionally disturbed.
When such a
confrontation turns violent, there are reasonable questions, said Rick
Cagan, the executive director of the Kansas office of the National
Alliance on Mental Illness.
“If there is some doubt (about forcing
an arrest), what is the hurry?” he said. “Why do we have to serve a
warrant now? We ought to look at protective measures to keep this from
Howard had recently lost her job at a convenience
store shortly before she failed to report back to Johnson County’s Adult
Residential Center. A warrant was issued for her arrest Aug. 21 because
she had violated the conditions of her probation.
completing a sentence for theft and obstruction from an arrest in July
2016 after Howard drove away in an acquaintance’s car from her mother’s
home after an argument, and then abandoned the car and ran off when
police tried to stop her.
In other cases — from domestic fights
with her mother, or driving on a suspended driver’s license — she at
times failed to comply with court orders and had warrants issued for her
arrest, records show. Eventually the law caught up with her and she
tried again to set things right for herself and her 3-year-old daughter,
her family said.
“Why couldn’t they have waited?” Mark Arnold
said. “If they’d packed up and gone home — left a couple of cars on the
street — they probably could’ve picked her up an hour later going to the
store to get cigarettes.