Trial turns to truck’s parking

Thursday, May 17, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:50 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

Was it a case of a man trying to run over a Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy with his truck, or just a case of a man forgetting to put his truck in gear on a slightly sloped driveway?

That was the question on the second day of the trial of Nicholas Forler, a former Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy charged with two counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter. He is accused of fatally shooting two men in a truck during a traffic stop at about 11:30 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2005.

Both the defense and the prosecution agree that the driver, 22-year-old Tyler Teasley, drove nearly a mile before pulling over in a subdivision near Troy. They also agree that Teasley, Michael Brown, 23, and the four other people in the truck had been driving around Lincoln County’s back roads and drinking for hours that night. Forler shot and killed both Teasley and Brown.

After Forler pulled in behind Teasley and walked behind the truck, it started to roll backward toward him.

“He told me, ‘I thought ... I’m going to die,’” Sam Steward, the police chief in Elsberry who was an investigator with the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 2005, said Forler told him during an interview.

Wednesday, in the second day of Forler’s trial, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Zoellner presented evidence that Teasley did not put his Dodge Ram pickup truck into gear after pulling over in a driveway near Troy and turning the truck off.

He said Teasley turned the truck off with the transmission in neutral as he coasted into the driveway. Teasley kept his foot on the brake until he shifted as he was attempting to have one of the passengers switch seats with him so he could avoid a DUI arrest, Zoellner said.

Michael Mahon, a highway patrol crash investigator with 24 years of experience, said one side of the patrol car’s push bar was bent. (It allows police to push disabled vehicles off the road without damaging the front end of their patrol cars.) Teasley’s truck also had a dent in its rear bumper, he said.

“I believe it was a low-speed impact,” Mahon said.

During questioning by Forler’s St. Charles attorney, Joseph McCulloch, Mahon said he did not test Forler’s version of the story — that the truck revved its engine and “jumped” toward him — because he said no evidence he had seen supported Forler’s story.

Another highway patrol investigator, David Bauer, said Forler was absolutely certain Teasley was trying to run him over.

Bradley Todd, who lives near the driveway where the shooting occurred, testified on Wednesday that he had his bedroom window open that night and couldn’t sleep. He said he heard what sounded like a “souped-up muscle car” rev its engine as two shots were fired.

But he admitted, when asked by Zoellner, that the truck’s tires should have left marks on the concrete driveway when it began to move if the engine were revved.

Investigators found no such marks, and the owner of the house where the shooting occurred testified that no such marks were left on his driveway.

The jurors got to hear the noises in question: a police siren and the revving engine of a Dodge Ram pickup truck. A Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department patrol car and Teasley’s pickup truck were brought to the Boone County Courthouse, and jurors were led outside to hear them.

Mahon testified that he conducted a test, using a Dodge Ram and cones to mark where the patrol car was on the night of the shooting, on the same driveway. The test, which he conducted three times because the truck’s exact starting location is unknown, showed that the truck was traveling at about 3.19 mph. The average person walks at a speed between 2 and 3 mph, he said.

Zoellner also presented evidence showing that Forler violated Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department policy and normal law enforcement procedure by shooting Teasley and Brown.

Steward testified that during routine traffic stops, it is not standard procedure in any law enforcement agency for an officer to draw his weapon. While he said it is standard procedure for officers to draw their guns during a felony traffic stop, he said officers conducting such stops should always wait for backup and remain behind the cover of their patrol cars.

Forler did neither. Instead, Bauer said Forler — who had 3 years’ experience — told him that he drew his gun and then walked between his patrol car and the back of the pickup.

David Lingle, a lieutenant with the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Department who said he helped develop the policy on the use of deadly force, testified that officers are to base the level of force they use on their own perception. But, after persistent questioning by Zoellner, he said the department prohibits officers from shooting into moving cars except as the ultimate measure of self-defense when all other reasonable alternatives are exhausted.

“Do you think it would have been reasonable (for Forler) to take one step to the side?” Zoellner asked Lingle.

Lingle admitted that stepping out of the truck’s path would have been a reasonable alternative to shooting the men.

Forler, 27, has shown little emotion during the trial, but he began to cry as an audio recording of the police radio traffic from that night was played.

He faces up to 14 years in prison if he is convicted.

The trial was scheduled to continue today at the Boone County Courthouse.

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