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Family wants investigation into conduct of officer

Ben Felder March 26th, 2014

The family of a man who died while in police custody is asking for an independent investigation into an officer who was involved in a shooting on Sunday morning.

Oklahoma City police officers shot and killed Gail Dean Fairless, 73, on March 23 after he picked up a gun and aimed it at the officers, according to the police department.

The four officers involved are on administrative leave, including Sgt. Jeff Coffey, who was also involved in an incident in 2012 in which Robin Howard died from injuries sustained in a scuffle with police.

Coffey was found of no wrongdoing by an internal investigation by police in 2012.

Coffey was also injured in another incident with a suspect in 2013.

Attorney David Slane submitted a letter on behalf of the Howard family to Police Chief Bill Citty on Tuesday requesting an investigation into the conduct of Coffey.

“There are three separate incidents in which someone has either been injured or killed while Sgt. Coffey was placing them into police custody,” Slane wrote in his letter. “The family requests that an outside investigation be conducted … the Howard family believes internal affairs investigations are merely rubber stamps.”

Cpt. Dexter Nelson said Citty is preparing to respond to the letter and Sunday’s shooting is still under investigation by homicide investigators, which is standard procedure following a use of force that results in death.

Nelson said the findings of the investigation will be submitted to the district attorney’s office and a citizen advisory board. The same procedures were followed in 2012 following Howard’s death, including an independent review by the FBI.

Slane said he wasn’t sure if any wrongdoing occurred on Sunday, but the Howard family was concerned that the same officer was involved.

“We’re not saying that we know any of the facts of this most recent case,” Slane said. “All we know is this, when Jeff Coffey is involved someone gets hurt or dies.”

Nelson said the cases of Howard and Fairless were very different. Howard died from pneumonia caused by blunt force trauma to the chest after officers used force to arrest him. In that case, Nelson said, officers were not attempting to use deadly force.

On Sunday, Fairless pointed a gun at officers and deadly force was intentionally used in response, Nelson said.
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