Friday, August 14, 2015

Report Reveals Conflict in Officer Accounts of Steven Askew's Death

Posted By on Fri, Aug 14, 2015 at 11:21 AM

click to enlarge Steven Askew
  • Steven Askew

Memphis Police officers Matthew Dyess and Ned Aufdenkamp changed their stories about what happened the night the pair shot and killed 24-year-old Steven Askew on January 17th, 2013, according to documents obtained by the Askew family attorney.

According to a witness statement from Memphis Police officer Christy Drew, who filed the police report on the scene that night, Aufdenkamp informed her that "he noticed a weapon in [Askew's] lap. Officer Aufdenkamp then advised that the man pointed the weapon at him and fired a shot. At that point, the officers returned fire."

The officers later alleged that Askew simply pointed his gun at them and that no shots were fired. A later investigation found that Askew never fired a weapon that night, according to Howard Manis, his family's attorney in a civil rights claim against the city.

On January 17th, 2013, Aufdenkamp and Dyess responded to a loud noise disturbance call at an apartment complex in Southeast Memphis. After they were unable to locate the source of the loud noise, they drove to another nearby complex — the Windsor Place Apartments. That's where Askew was sleeping in his car in the parking lot, waiting for his girlfriend to return home.

The officers later testified that they saw Askew sleeping in the car, and they stopped to investigate whether or not his vehicle was the source of the noise, but there was no music coming from his car (and the noise complaint had come from a completely different complex). The officers approached Askew's car and shined their flashlights in his windows. When he didn't wake, they tapped on the window. That's when the officers claim they saw a gun in Askew's lap and proceeded to point their weapons at Askew. Both officers allege that Askew then pointed his gun at them, but their statements conflicted as to which hand Askew held his gun with. And the newly produced documents show that the officers told Drew that Askew fired his gun. 

The officers fired 22 shots, and Askew was hit nine times — six times in the back, two in his arms, and one in the back of his neck. 

That witness statement from Drew, which demonstrates a conflict in the officers' account of what happened, was originally withheld from Askew's attorney. Manis made an open records request to the city of Memphis and the Shelby County District Attorney's Office after being hired by Askew's family. Drew's statement was not included in the materials produced by the city, but it was included in the files from the DA's office. Manis said the city finally produced the statement on May 21st of this year, two years after the shooting and the Memphis Police Department's (MPD) internal investigation that cleared Dyess and Aufdenkamp of wrongdoing.

click to enlarge Officers Ned Aufdenkamp and Matthew Dyess
  • Officers Ned Aufdenkamp and Matthew Dyess

"It's obviously information that we feel like we should have been provided at the very beginning," Manis said.

Drew was recently deposed by Askew's attorney, and she testified that, indeed, one of the officers told her that Askew fired multiple rounds at them before they returned fire and killed him. Drew testified that she never requested that Askew's weapon be checked to see if it had been fired or to be tested for fingerprints. She also testified that she had casual, off-the-record conversations with with Dyess and Aufdenkamp that night when the two admitted that they were no longer certain Askew had fired a weapon. Yet Drew failed to include that information in her report.

Dyess and Aufdenkamp were relieved of duty during an MPD internal investigation in January 2013, but they were reinstated the next month. Aufdenkamp's personnel file revealed a long history of performance problems and citizen complaints on his behavior. Askew's family filed a lawsuit alleging a civil rights violation against their son, and that case is ongoing.

"We are trying to wrap up discovery. We've had a great deal of witnesses deposed, and we're moving forward," Manis said.

The MPD did not respond to multiple requests for comment on this story.

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