SPRINGFIELD, Missouri — A Springfield police officer faces a misdemeanor assault charge after shooting a fleeing panhandler in early May near a grocery store.
Greene County Prosecuting Attorney Dan Patterson announced Thursday a charge of third-degree assault against Jason Shuck, 35. Shuck faces up to one year in jail if convicted.
A probable cause statement shows that Springfield resident Eric Butts, 27, was standing outside the store with a cardboard sign saying he had lost his job, had a pregnant wife and was "in need of help." Police were called because Butts had an outstanding arrest warrant for failing to appear in court on a parole violation.
Shuck told investigators he instead meant to shoot Butts with a stun gun, but the probable cause statement notes that the right-handed officer had to reach across his body for the much lighter Taser attached to the left side of his belt. Butts was wounded in the lower back and suffered serious intestinal injuries that require him to use a colostomy bag, the Springfield News-Leader (sgfnow.co/1kIOBwp) reported.
Police Chief Paul Williams that Shuck is on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the case. He added that Shuck could keep his job even if convicted, subject to the department's own inquiry.
"The internal investigation is separate from the criminal investigation, and it is in process," he said.
Shuck's attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday. Butts has hired a lawyer to pursue a possible civil lawsuit against the city.
The officer told a Springfield police detective that "the best explanation that I have is that my ... brain was saying Taser ... but my body moved faster than my brain," according to the probable cause statement.
Former Greene County prosecutor Darrell Moore said he can't recall another case in the past three decades where a police officer in the county was criminally charged for an officer-involved shooting.
"I think it sends a good message to the public that law enforcement and prosecutors believe that law enforcement officers should be held to the same standard as civilians when it comes to deadly force — that it should be justified," he said.
Patterson, the current prosecutor, said Shuck was charged with a misdemeanor rather than a felony because the investigation pointed toward criminal negligence.
Information from: Springfield News-Leader, http://www.news-leader.com