About 100 gather at vigil for Fairfield man shot, killed by police


Visitation for Caleb Surface will be from 5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday at Avance Funeral Home & Crematory, 4976 Winton Road, Fairfield. Funeral services will follow.

Memorial donations may be made to Good Samaritan Inn, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, at www.thegoodsamaritaninn.org

Amid the frigid cold and a brisk, biting wind, about 100 people gathered Friday night not only to light candles and lanterns in memory of Caleb Surface, but to also try to understand why he died.

Surface, 23, was shot about 8 p.m. Jan. 18 by Fairfield police officer Scott Conklin after officers responded to a report of a domestic dispute between Caleb and his father, Jeff, according to the Fairfield Police Department.

“We have tools, other different ways to take somebody down without taking their life,” said Dustin Newman, Surface’s cousin, during the vigil. “And I know very much this city has the money and has every bit of those tools. Why didn’t they choose to use them?”

Jeff Surface had called police Jan. 18 saying his son had forced his way into his home in the 2000 block of Spyglass Hill Court, according to reports.

When police arrived at the scene, Surface fled from the home through a back door. He was located by Conklin one street over in the 2000 block of Saint Andrews Court, according to police. Conklin fired two shots and Surface died at the scene.

Surface and Conklin had met before. Just months before, Conklin had investigated a theft at the Spyglass Hill Court home, according to police reports obtained by the Journal-News.

On the afternoon of May 24, Surface reported to Conklin that someone took two golf drivers worth $200 that belonged to his father.

Conklin, who has received a number of disciplinary actions for absenteeism and lack of follow through, was written up in June by Sgt. Lori Cresap for failure to follow up on the theft as well as four other cases, according to personnel records obtained by the Journal-News.

Conklin has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the shooting investigation being conducted by the Ohio Bureau of Investigation.

Conklin, a 10-year veteran of the force, had also been recommend for “separation from service” by the police chief at the time of the Jan. 18 incident, according to records in his personnel file.

“Officer Conklin has failed to correct his unacceptable performance and attendance. He has been in neglect of his duty by failing to appear for a court date and has violated police department rules,” Chief Michael Dickey wrote on Nov. 17 in a correspondence to the city’s assistant city manager. “… It is my recommendation that Officer Scott Conklin be separated from service.”

A pre-disciplinary hearing was scheduled for Dec. 10, but was postponed, according to a notice in his file “pending a settlement agreement with union.”

In a 911 tape released to the Journal-News, Jeff Surface told dispatchers that his son had broken into his residence.

“He is out of control, he is nuts,” Jeff Surface said in the 911 call. The dispatcher repeatedly tried to get the father back on the line as a confrontation can be heard in the background. “He’s in his room, just tried to open his door and grab a knife or something. I almost had to shoot him.”

Police tapes of radio traffic at the time of the shooting indicate an officer believed to be Conklin saw Surface walking through yards on St. Andrews Court.

“I got him at gunpoint … he’s claiming to have a firearm on him,” the officer said. Seconds later Conklin indicates shots fired.

According to Ed Kathman, the cousin of Jeff Surface and a lawyer who had previously represented Caleb, police were told that Surface did not exit the home with a weapon owned by his father.

When Jeff Surface denied his son’s requests to stay at the residence, a physical altercation ensued and the father called 911, Kathman said.

“He wanted them to take his son into custody so he could be forced to get the treatment that he needed,” he said. “That was his whole goal. He didn’t want to have him arrested. He didn’t want to have charges filed on him.”

Surface had a criminal past that included drug charges in Fairfield Municipal Court and Butler County Common Pleas Court. In September, Fairfield Judge Joyce Campbell ordered him to stay away from the Spyglass Hill Court home.

Relatives say Surface was a former Fairfield High School student.

“He struggled with depression and he was unhappy. Life hasn’t been easy on him lately,” Angie Kelley, Surface’s aunt, told the Journal-News.

Friends and family who gathered at Friday’s vigil echoed those words.

“He got into a bad situation with drugs. He was trying to bring himself back, and this tragedy happens,” Newman said.

Various people Friday shared memories of Surface, saying they loved his smile, his hugs and his sense of humor.

Online musings made by Surface also painted a picture of a man with some struggles.

Surface, who started a Facebook account on Jan. 9, wrote two days later on his 23rd birthday that drinking by oneself on one’s birthday “really isn’t all that, believe it or not.”

At 12:12 a.m. Saturday he wrote “Beer and a gun hmmm what to do” and at 9 a.m. he wrote “Last words?”

One male friend, who asked not to be identified, said at Friday’s vigil: “Even if he got in a fight and fell down, he wouldn’t even come after you. He’d help you back up … he wouldn’t hurt a fly. I guarantee that night he was submitting himself over to the law, trying not to have any altercations at all, and this happened.”

Surface’s family released a statement last week, part of which read:

“The family will reserve comment on the situation until the investigation is complete, but the family expects a full and accurate accounting of what transpired from the time that Caleb left his father’s home until his death a short time later.

“Caleb was a kind-hearted young man who had many challenges with chemical dependency during his time on earth. Caleb’s father, who has solely raised his son since age ten, has dedicated his life to helping Caleb overcome these issues.

“It is our prayer that Caleb has finally found the peace that he struggled to achieve in life.”

About the Author