Fairfield officer who shot 23-year-old was recommended for ‘separation from service’

The Fairfield police officer who fatally shot a 23-year-old while responding to a domestic call had been recommended for “separation from service” by the police chief at the time of the incident.

Officer Scott Conklin, a 10-year veteran of the force, was identified by Fairfield police Tuesday after a public records request by the Journal-News.

“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.”

Excessive absence from work, going home early and talking on his personal cell phone too much, are a few of the violations cited by Dickey and supervisory officers.

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.”

Caleb J. Surface, 23, was pronounced dead at 10:30 p.m. Saturday on St. Andrews Court, according to the Butler County Coroner’s Office. The primary cause of death is listed as a gunshot wound.

Conklin is on administrative leave while the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Fairfield Police conduct an official investigation.

The results of the investigation will be sent to the Butler County Prosecutor’s Office and the city attorney for review, according to police.

When he took office, Butler County Prosecutor Michael Gmoser said he informed all police agencies that any officer-involved shooting would be reviewed by a grand jury.

“This case will be handled no differently and it is not an implication of wrong doing by the fact that the protocol I established is being followed,” Gmoser said.

The incident occurred around 8 p.m. Saturday after police responded to a report of a domestic dispute between the shooting victim and his father, according to the Fairfield Police Department. The father, Jeff Surface, called police saying his son had forced his way into the home, according to reports.

When police arrived at the scene, the son 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 the victim was hit and died at the scene.

In a 911 tape released Tuesday 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 tape. 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.”

Donna Riley, who identified herself as Jeff Surface’s girlfriend, called 911 from her car where she fled because she was concerned Caleb might take it.

“His (Jeff Surface) kid was acting up last night too,” Riley told dispatchers.

Police tapes of radio traffic at the time of the shooting indicate an officer believed to be Conklin saw Caleb 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, police were told that Caleb did not exit the home with a weapon owned by Jeffrey Surface.

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.”

Caleb 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.

Kathman said he is not sure that his cousin was even aware of the stay away order.

“Whatever the court has required of him in relation to his son, he’s done,” Kathman said. “He’s always told him, ‘Hey, you’ve got a warrant. Turn yourself in. You want to come here, you’ve got to take care of that. You’re not going to be here with a warrant on you.’”

Relatives say Caleb Surface was a former Fairfield High School student.

“He was a good kid with a huge heart,” said Angie Kelley, Surface’s aunt. “He struggled with depression and he was unhappy. Life hasn’t been easy on him lately.”

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?”

Part of a statement issued by the family 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.”

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