The kind of defiance that one might take for granted cost Ciara Howard her own life. A chilling body camera shows Howard slamming the laundry room door that stood between her and an arsenal of officers determined to arrest her one more time.
The scene turned ugly after 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.
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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 weapon. Unfortunately, police opened fire and Howard pitched forward, falling dead on the concrete floor.
The two 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.
On the contrary, the family thinks otherwise as the 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. She committed a crime by not returning 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 no one.
“Ciara was the only person in danger,” her mother, Kathy Arnold, said.
The 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.
“I’m a 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 city released the footage to The Star late Tuesday after the city of Olathe was sued by The Star last month. The Olathe Police Department said it could not comment on the video or the officers’ actions Aug. 23, because that litigation is still pending.
The video shows how a large team of officers moved in on Howard through the small Olathe home over the course of some 25 minutes. Having surrounded the house for three hours, multiple officers and vehicles 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.
The lead officer threatened many times that they would release the dog, which barked at its handler’s command. Howard revealed her fear of having to spend time in the county jail. She cracked open the door and barked back at the police dog.
“It 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.”
Later on, the 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. The police called for medical help as the Johnson County deputy put on gloves and dragged Howard into the hallway.