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Prosecutor: Deputy was justified in shooting Sedalia woman at traffic stop
AP

Prosecutor: Deputy was justified in shooting Sedalia woman at traffic stop

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SEDALIA — A Pettis County sheriff's deputy was justified under Missouri law when he fatally shot a 25-year-old woman during a June traffic stop in Sedalia, a special prosecutor appointed to the case said Monday.

While the shooting was possibly avoidable, "it cannot be said" the deputy did not have a reasonable belief he was in danger when Hannah Fizer told him she had a gun and was going to shoot him, according to the prosecutor, Stephen Sokoloff.

When the deputy shot her June 13, Fizer had reached down into the floorboard of her car and raised up toward him, Sokoloff, general counsel for the Missouri Office of Prosecution Services, said in a letter to Judge Jeff Mittelhauser.

Sokoloff made his decision after reviewing reports from investigators, statements from witnesses, an autopsy report and video from the surveillance system of a nearby business, among other things.

"There are aspects of the case that lead me to believe that an alternative approach might have avoided the confrontation that led to the officer having to discharge his weapon," Sokoloff wrote, "but that is not relevant to a determination of whether criminal liability would attach."

That determination was made "somewhat more difficult by the absence" of body-worn cameras with audio, Sokoloff wrote. The video from the adjacent security system was "not totally clear," he said.

But other evidence, Sokoloff wrote, supports "the officer's claim that he was in fear of his safety."

The shooting

Fizer stopped her car about 10 p.m. that day between two restaurants near the 3500 block of West Broadway Boulevard. Family and friends say she was driving to her job at an Eagle Stop convenience store when she was pulled over.

The deputy said Fizer refused to identify herself when she was stopped. She told the deputy she was armed with a gun and was going to shoot him, according to the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

In search warrants, a Highway Patrol investigator described restaurant video as showing the deputy make contact with Fizer before drawing his gun. Fizer, who had been pulled over for speeding and careless driving, is seen moving inside her silver 2015 Hyundai Elantra. Then, the deputy fires his weapon.

The Star has not obtained the video. Such evidence is normally closed to public view during an active investigation.

No body camera or dash camera footage exists of the shooting, as Pettis County deputies are not equipped with the technology, the sheriff has said. However, Fizer may have recorded part of the incident herself.

Fizer was shot multiple times. She was declared dead at the scene at 10:34 p.m.

No gun was found in Fizer's car. Her family has stood by their initial doubt of the official narrative. It was unlike Fizer, whom family members described as kind and caring, to threaten to shoot a deputy, they said.

The investigation into Fizer's death was completed in late July by the highway patrol. The case was handed over the next week to Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney Phillip Sawyer, who asked a court to appoint a special prosecutor.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

(c)2020 The Kansas City Star (Kansas City, Mo.)

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