Deputy not guilty in traffic stop shootings

Friday, May 18, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:03 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

A Lincoln County sheriff’s deputy was found not guilty of two counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter on Thursday night.

Nicholas Forler, 27, was charged with two counts of first-degree involuntary manslaughter almost a year after shooting two men during a traffic stop on Oct. 23, 2005. Tyler Teasley, the truck’s 22-year-old driver, and Michael Brown, a 23-year-old passenger, were killed.

The Boone County jury of two women and 10 men returned with their verdict at about 9:30 p.m., after about three hours of deliberation.

“May God have mercy on your souls,” said Tory Teasley, the brother of Tyler Teasley, to Forler and his supporters after the jury was dismissed.

Teasley’s mother, Mary, sobbed uncontrollably outside of the courtroom.

Forler, who had been with the sheriff’s department for about two years and seven months at the time of the shooting, said that he tried to stop a red Dodge Ram pickup truck driven Tyler Teasley, but Teasley drove for nearly a mile before pulling over in a driveway in a subdivision near Troy.

Both sides agree that Teasley was trying to avoid getting caught driving drunk. He had five other passengers in the truck.

Teasley’s truck began to move backward toward Forler, and he fired two shots into the tinted rear window of the truck. Teasley was taken by helicopter to a St. Louis hospital where he died several hours later. Michael Brown, 23, a passenger sitting behind Teasley, died at the scene.

“What Mr. Forler says is that he’s the victim,” said Kevin Zoellner, the special prosecutor in the case, during closing arguments at the Boone County Courthouse on Thursday. The trial was moved here after the Lincoln County court determined there was excessive publicity there. “After shooting those kids, he stands over their friends and demands to know why they tried to run him down.”

After the verdict was read, Zoellner said he respected the jury’s verdict even though he believed the charges just.

Joseph McCulloch, Forler’s attorney, and Forler’s mother left the courtrooom by an inside staircase and couldn’t be reached for comment.

Forler testified Thursday. He said Teasley’s and Brown’s deaths were not his fault, but the blame lies with Teasley.

“Looking back, my mistake is that I went to work, and I should have stayed home,” Forler testified. “I do believe that was my only mistake.”

Forler said he shot into the truck after it began to accelerate backward toward him.

The four occupants of the truck who were not killed testified that the truck was off and in neutral, and that it rolled back only because Teasley took his foot off the brake in the panic that ensued after he was pulled over.

The defense called two expert witnesses on Thursday. One, Jeff Kuehn, a member of S.E.A. Limited, a forensic investigations group, said he believes, based on the damage to the truck and patrol car and police reports he reviewed, that Teasley’s truck was traveling backward at a speed between 5.2 mph and 7.9 mph.

But when cross examined, he admitted that he compared the damage to the car and truck to damage to similar vehicles without reviewing police reports on how those vehicles were damaged.

On Wednesday, a Missouri State Highway Patrol investigator testified that, according to tests that he conducted, Teasley’s truck was traveling at about the same speed that the average person walks, between 3 and 4 mph.

The defense’s second expert witness, a behavioral scientist named William Lewinski, testified that even if the truck was not accelerating toward Forler, it was reasonable to believe that it was because he was focused on the truck’s back window, which was darkly tinted.

But when cross-examined by Zoellner, Lewinski admitted that his opinion was based on the idea that Forler told him the truth, which he said cannot be proven by any tests. He also said he spoke to Forler by telephone for 40 minutes about two weeks before the trial and had no other contact with him.

Forler testified that he graduated at the top of his class in the police academy.

“The only option I had to try to save my own life was to shoot my weapon,” Forler said.

Zoellner argued that Forler had another option.

“Mr. Forler’s actions have to be reasonable. If there’s some reasonable alternative available to him, the law requires him to take it,” Zoellner said during his closing arguments. “His feet worked fine.”

The jury, however, had to believe that he did not have any reasonable alternative available to acquit Forler.

“We’ve got to live with this,” said Tara Brown, Michael Brown’s sister, outside of the courthouse. “Two boys are in the ground and there’s no justice.”

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steve wise May 18, 2007 | 3:51 p.m.

Is there a police car video showing the movement of the truck?

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