Two Fresno police officers testified Wednesday that two gunshots didn’t stop Veronica Lynn Canter from coming at them with knives in March 2014, so three more hollow-point bullets were fired at her, killing her in her ex-boyfriend’s apartment near Bulldog Stadium.
But two witnesses disputed the officers’ claims in U.S. District Court in Fresno. They said they heard five rapid gunshots in succession.
On the second day of the federal civil rights trial, a jury of five men and three women got a clearer picture of Canter’s deadly encounter with Officers Douglas Cox and Edward Louchren.
Canter, 48, was fatally shot shortly before 4 p.m. March 7, 2014, after she locked her ex-boyfriend out of his apartment.
She was going to kill Doug.
Fresno police Officer Edward Louchren
Cox and Louchren have testified that Louchren had to shoot Canter because she charged at them with two knives. When the first two shots didn’t stop her, Louchren testified Wednesday, he fired three more rounds at her because “she was going to kill Doug.”
Lawyers for Canter’s family contend Canter was mentally ill and that the two officers didn’t follow proper procedure when they kicked open the door, used a stun gun on her and then fatally shot her. The family is seeking unspecified damages from the city of Fresno and the two officers for violation of Canter’s civil rights to be free of excessive force. They also are suing for wrongful death, contending the officers were negligent.
A key issue in the trial is whether the two officers knew Canter was mentally ill. The officers have testified that they didn’t suspect Canter to be mentally ill. And Louchren testified Wednesday that he thought Canter was just throwing a temper tantrum because her ex-boyfriend, Dag Lindbeck, had kicked her out of his apartment. He also testified that he told police investigators that Canter’s behavior that day of yelling and cursing at Lindbeck and pounding on a sliding glass door of the apartment was “almost comical.”
Louchren, an 18-year veteran of the Fresno Police Department, and Cox, a 30-year veteran, both described the incident as a typical boyfriend-girlfriend disturbance involving misdemeanor trespassing that suddenly turned deadly.
Arturo Gonzalez, one of the family’s attorneys, however, has told the jury that any reasonable officer would have known Canter was mentally ill. Dispatch had informed the officers that Canter had “mental issues.” Lindbeck also had told Cox that Canter was “acting crazy and stupid.” In addition, 20 days before she was killed, a Fresno police officer found Canter lying in the street, wearing only her bra and underwear. The officer took Canter to a psychiatric facility to be evaluated.
Gonzalez contends the officers violated department policy because they never called dispatch to learn about Canter’s mental health history or to ask assistance from a police supervisor, negotiator or the mental health crisis team. The officers also would have learned that Canter had been acting strangely, dancing inside and outside the apartment, and talking to herself, Gonzalez has told the jury.
On Wednesday, Cox and Louchren admitted they never called dispatch before they busted into the apartment. In addition, Louchren testified that because he was responding to Cox’s request for backup, which requires driving to the scene with lights and sirens on, he didn’t have time to look at the patrol car’s computer monitor that would have told him that Canter had mental issues.
A key issue in the trial is whether the two officers knew Veronica Lynn Canter was mentally ill.
Louchren testified that he arrived at the scene at 3:51 p.m. Within three minutes of his arrival, he said, he was forced to shoot Canter in defense of Cox.
Upon his arrival, Louchren said Cox already had his stun gun out. He said Cox told him that Canter had locked Lindbeck out of his apartment and was getting “highly combative.” When Gonzalez asked him what that meant, Louchren testified: “She’s throwing a tantrum. She’s venting a lot, yelling and screaming a lot, angrily.”
Louchren testified he didn’t even know Canter’s name and he didn’t bother to ask Cox or Lindbeck for it. He also testified that he never asked Lindbeck if Canter was mentally ill or “why she was acting that way.”
Louchren said he asked Lindbeck if he wanted to press trespassing charges. Once Lindbeck said yes, Louchren – who told the jury he weighs about 300 pounds with his police gear on – said, it was his idea to kick in the door to get to Canter, who was 5 feet 4 inches tall and weighed 130 pounds.
Gonzalez asked Louchren if he considered waiting until Canter calmed down. When Louchren said there was no reason to wait, Gonzalez read to the jury Louchren’s interview with police investigators in which he said the reason he didn’t wait was because “women get angry and they can stay angry a long time.”
While at the apartment complex, Louchren said, he never saw Cox speak directly to Canter. He also testified that he and Cox could have called Canter on the telephone, but didn’t think of it.
Before they entered the apartment, Louchren said, he used a calm voice to warn Canter that he was kicking in the door and was going to cite her for trespassing. He said it took five kicks to bust open the door. He then went in first, followed by Cox. At that moment, Canter didn’t have any knives or weapons, he testified.
Louchren said Canter looked at him, then turned around and went into the kitchen. When she returned, she had two knives in her hands. Because Canter was slashing the blades of the knives together as if to sharpen them, Louchren said, he pulled out his gun and aimed it at Canter.
Once Canter started coming toward him, Louchren testified, he told Cox to use his stun gun on her. Canter’s eyes got big when she got stunned, Louchren said, and then she cursed them, saying: “Is that all you’ve got?”
Louchren said he saw Canter cut her wrists. “It freaked me out,” he told the jury. Because Canter charged toward Cox, Louchren said, he did a “double tap, boom, boom,” shooting Canter twice as she stepped onto the couch. Louchren said he then paused to see if the bullets stopped the threat. He said he shot Canter three more times because she was standing on the couch, had a height advantage on Cox and was ready to lunge at Cox.
But apartment manager Veronica Placencia, and one of her tenants, Angelique Conston, who lived in the apartment above Lindbeck’s, testified they never heard a pause between gunfire. They said the gunshots were in rapid succession.
They also said they noticed Canter acting strange that day, but that neither Cox nor Louchren talked to them before they shot Canter.
In addition, Fresno police Sgt. Sean Biggs, who wrote an Internal Affairs report about the shooting, testified that Cox never told investigators that Louchren fired two volleys at Canter.