Internal report clears Hamilton officer in deadly Walgreens robbery

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Caption
No wrong doing in fatal Walgreens shooting

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Investigation reveals more about assailant’s criminal past, mental health.

A two-month internal investigation into the fatal officer-involved shooting at Walgreens in Hamilton that killed a 34-year-old man in a robbery attempt has found no fault in Officer Kevin Ruhl's use of force.

The thick report completed this week by the Hamilton Police Department includes an autopsy report on Kelley Brandon Forte that showed his blood-alcohol level was .222 and he tested positive for marijuana at the time of his death on Aug. 22.

It also shed light on Forte’s criminal history. He was on parole after serving a four-year sentence for aggravated vehicular homicide and moved to Hamilton in May. At the time of his death, according to the report, Forte lived on North Eighth Street and worked at Trade Global in West Chester Twp.

Just days after the fatal shooting of Ruhl, a Butler County grand jury reviewed the incident, assisted with surveillance tapes from the store, and declined to indict the officer.

In announcing the grand jury’s decision of “no indictment” against Ruhl, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said, “the confronting officer (Ruhl) fatally shot the assailant preventing potential injury to him and others and preventing the assailant’s escape.”

Sock over hand, knife in pocket

Forte entered the High Street store at 2:26 a.m. and jumped the counter of the pharmacy. Before entering he stopped at the front door, puts a black sock over his right hand and puts a knife inside his jacket pocket, the reports states based on review of the store’s surveillance footage and witness statements.

While in the store for nearly nine minutes, Forte placed the knife to the throat the pharmacist Terri May and demanded drugs and cash, which he was given.

At the crime scene, 54 bottles containing oxycodone/acetaminophen tablets in plastic bags and cash was scattered on the floor on and around Forte’s body, according to the report.

At 2:30 a.m. store employee Mary Berger walked back to the pharmacy to check on May after a customer tells another employee that a man jumped the counter.

A still clip from video of the officer-involved shooting at Walgreens in Hamilton shows the suspect, Kelley Brandon Forte, pulling out a knife inside the Walgreens at 1090 High St. on Aug. 22. and asking the pharmacist for drugs and money. HAMILTON POLICE DEPARTMENT / CONTRIBUTED
Caption
A still clip from video of the officer-involved shooting at Walgreens in Hamilton shows the suspect, Kelley Brandon Forte, pulling out a knife inside the Walgreens at 1090 High St. on Aug. 22. and asking the pharmacist for drugs and money. HAMILTON POLICE DEPARTMENT / CONTRIBUTED

Berger did not see May, who told her she was counting some medications. Berger then called 911 as does the customer who saw the pharmacy breached.

“At 2:35 a.m., despite having all the drugs and money that he demanded. Mr. Forte places the tip of the knife to Ms. May’s throat and removes her from the pharmacy (to the bathroom). Ms. May believes he is going to assault her based on statements he was making,” the report states.

A 2:36:04 a.m. Officer Danielle Sorber entered the store and is advised Forte has a knife, which she broadcasts to dispatch.

Officers Brian Ungerbuehler and Ruhl arrived in the same cruiser at 2:36:18 a.m. Ruhl goes in the front door, and Ungerbuehler drove to the back of the store. Both Ruhl and Sorber jumped over the counter and entered the pharmacy.

About 20 feet from assailant

Ruhl first saw Forte with the pharmacist at 2:37:01 a.m.

“They are both about 20 to 22 feet from Officer Ruhl. Officer Ruhl said the Mr. Forte was standing behind (May) with a knife around her neck. Officer Ruhl stated that ‘(Forte) saw me, that’s when he ran toward this aisle.’ Officer Ruhl orders Mr. Forte to ‘Drop the knife, Drop the knife (according to Ruhl’s interview. May said that the officer was screaming ‘Freeze. Stop. Freeze. Stop (according to May’s interview). Mr. Forte refuses to obey the commands; instead he runs between two shelving units toward the front aisle of the pharmacy,” according to the investigation report.

Seconds later, Ruhl reaches the front aisle and posts himself near the end of the shelving unit. Forte, with the knife in his right hand, is running toward the officer, according to the report. That is when Ruhl first points his gun at Forte. They are about 9 feet, 6 inches apart from each other.

At 2:37:04 a.m. Forte is running at Ruhl. Ruhl said, “I felt in fear for my safety.” He added, “If he did get past me there was other officers coming in and other people in the store. He could have hurt another officer or grabbed another person in the store or another employee and something else could have happened,” according to his interview.

Shot ‘didn’t change his reaction’

Ruhl then took a step back, meaning he and Forte were about 4 feet apart, and he fired two shots. Officer Ungerbuehler said he thought he heard Ruhl yell something like ‘let me see your hands.”

At 2:37:05 a.m. Forte continued past Ruhl and fell onto the customer counter. Ruhl said he did not know if either or both of the first two rounds hit Forte.

“Maybe the second one, but I wasn’t sure about the first. It didn’t change his reaction,” Ruhl said in his interview.

Ruhl fired a third round at 2:37:08 a.m after tracking Forte as he approached the pharmacy door. Still armed and non-compliant, Ruhl perceived him as a threat and fired a third and final time, according to the report. Ruhl said he thought he fired all three shots in two to three seconds.

When Forte was on the floor and Ruhl and Ungerbuehler were trying to handcuff him, Ruhl said, “Where’s the knife, where’s the knife?” Sorber came alongside of Forte and said, ‘I have it.” The knife was on the left side of Forte and she moved it to the counter.

According to the Butler County Coroner’s report, Forte was hit by three gunshots, two to the back and one to the left forearm.

Officer not back on duty yet

The internal administrative report finds the same conclusion as the grand jury.

“The actions of the officers and supervisors who responded to the scene of the armed robbery and shooting conform to the policies and rules and regulations set forth in the Hamilton Police Department General Orders. Officer Kevin Ruhl’s use of lethal force to defend himself and others from serious physical harm and to take Kelley Forte into custody conform to the policies and rules and regulations set forth in the Hamilton Police Department General Orders …” Sgt. Mark Hayes wrote in the report.

Ruhl and Sorber were placed on administrative leave, per department policy, on the day of the shooting. Sorber, a 9-month veteran of the force, has returned to work. Ruhl and 9-year veteran, has not yet returned to duty.

“He is still off on administrative leave. We are still focused on getting him back to duty and look forward to having him back as soon as he is fit and able to return. He’s just not there yet,” said Hamilton Police Chief Craig Bucheit.

The pharmacist has returned to work, the chief said.

History of mental illness

During an interview with Forte’s father Donald Forte and stepmother Vicki, the father said his son had a history of mental illness, according to the investigation report.

Forte had been arrested at least 14 times since 2000. He was feared by neighbors and one man reported he robbed him, according to the investigation report.

On Sept. 2, Hamilton detectives received a hit on Forte’s DNA from a burglary at Shine Beauty Supply on July 31 on High Street in Hamilton.

The beauty supply store is a block away from Walgreens. In the video from the Shine burglary, Forte appears to be impaired, and he is holding a large knife. The owner of the business, who lives in the attached apartment, heard glass break and confronted Forte, who fled.

At Walgreens, though, he stayed.

“He had what he wanted, but he stayed there for 9 minutes. Textbook robbery is you come in, get what you want and leave. He didn’t. I believed he intended to assault her (the pharmacist),” Bucheit said.

Cincinnati attorney Marcus Coleman, who Bucheit said is representing the Forte family, could not be reached for comment.