Officer cleared of crime in Fairfield fatal shooting

A Fairfield police officer has been cleared of any criminal wrongdoing in the January shooting death of a 23-year-old man.

The results of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation probe into the officer-involved shooting that killed Caleb Surface were presented to a Butler County grand jury Thursday, and no indictment was handed down, according to Prosecutor Michael Gmoser.

“The lethal use of force by the officer involved was justified,” Gmoser said in a news release that included an extensive summary of BCI’s investigation.

BCI was asked to take over the investigation by Fairfield Police Chief Mike Dickey within hours of the shooting.

Fairfield police Officer Scott Conklin shot and killed Surface on Jan. 18 in a cul-de-sac at the end of Saint Andrews Court when responding to a domestic dispute at Spyglass Hill Court.

Testimony from nine witnesses was considered by the grand jury, including an eyewitness to the incident, people who encountered Surface shortly prior to the incident as well as a friend of Surface and his parents.

Surface was not armed at the time of the shooting, but he told Conklin he was and threatened to kill the officer, according to witnesses. A black-and-silver, cordless telephone handset was found clutched in the man’s right hand at the time of his death, according to the investigation findings.

Jeff Surface, Caleb’s father, called 911 on the night of Jan. 18, saying his son had forced his way into the home, according to police reports. Jeff Surface reported he almost had to shoot his son as a result of a domestic dispute at the home.

After Surface fled the home, he made his way through the neighborhood, knocking on doors. One resident had to push him back out of their house after he forced his way in.

At about 8:20 p.m. Surface was located by Conklin walking in the snow in dark conditions, according to the investigation.

“Officer Conklin identified himself as a police officer and ordered Caleb Surface to stop,” Gmoser said. “At that time, Caleb Surface reportedly stated to the police officer, ‘I have a gun. Leave me alone.’”

Surface continued to walk away. After further commands from the officer, Surface reportedly said, “Are you listening to me? I have a gun. I will kill you.”

Conklin drew his service weapon and told Surface to put up his hands, according to reports. Witnesses say, initially, he complied, but then put his right hand in his pocket in a “furtive gesture,” and the officer fired two shots. One shot fatally struck Surface.

The investigation report states Surface had been hospitalized for a suicide attempt shortly before the incident. At the time of his death, Surface had ingested multiple mind-altering drugs and alcohol, according to the investigation.

“We know the grand jury’s decision does not ease the sorrow of the family of Caleb Surface, or help the toll the incident has taken on the officer and his family,” said Dickey. “The entire community should be satisfied that there was a thorough investigation that received thorough airing, and a conclusion has been reached.”

Surface’s family could not be reached for comment.

At the time of the shooting, Conklin, a 10-year veteran, had been recommend for termination by Dickey due to work performance, including accurate reports, showing up for work and response times.

Dickey said since then, an agreement has been reached and Conklin will be given a four-day suspension.

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