Harford County sheriff’s deputies were locked in tense standoff with John Fauver for about 10 minutes in a Forest Hill parking lot, demanding he get out of his Ford pickup truck and surrender.
Responding to an April 23 call about a potentially armed suicidal man, deputies rushed to the suburban shopping center where he was seen in his pickup truck. There, they encountered a defiant and at times belligerent Fauver, 53, according to body-worn and dashboard camera footage of the fatal encounter released Thursday morning by the Maryland Office of the Attorney General’s Independent Investigations Division.
“I’m so ready to die, man,” Fauver told deputies, who managed to corner him after he jumped a curb in his truck and sped away during their first attempt to stop him.
Much of the released video shows body-worn camera footage from Sgt. Bradford Sives, who urged Fauver to calm down, put his arms up and stop reaching for things in his truck. He and other deputies said they didn’t want to hurt him.
But then Fauver appeared to raise his arms and a long object in the direction of deputies, several of whom were wielding long guns and standing in front of Fauver.
“It’s a cane! It’s cane! It’s a cane!” Sives shouted.
Those comments did not appear to be broadcast over the police radio.
Cpl. Christopher Maddox, who was standing much farther away and whose bodycam footage also was released Thursday, yelled: “He’s reaching, he’s reaching. He’s got a gun! He’s got the gun!”
Maddox fired his handgun first. Several gun blasts followed.
The video from Sives’ camera shows him firing his shotgun at least twice before calling out for a ceasefire.
Dashcam video from another deputy’s vehicle also released Thursday appears to show Fauver pointing an object toward deputies from behind a door of his pickup.
Harford County State’s Attorney Albert Peisinger Jr. determined a week ago that deputies’ use of deadly force was “necessary and proportional and not unreasonable,” and thus legal, given the circumstances. He chose to render a legal opinion before the unit within the attorney general’s office tasked by Maryland lawmakers with investigating deaths at the hands of police completed its investigation and presented its findings to Peisinger.
In a letter to Sheriff Jeffrey Gahler outlining his opinion, Peisinger said his office reviewed body-worn and dashboard camera footage, along with pictures, witness interviews, Facebook posts and information from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Peisinger said he would not pursue criminal charges against any of the deputies involved in what he described as “suicide by law enforcement.”
“The lawfulness of the deputies’ actions was obvious, and I found no reason to make our Harford County community wait for the Attorney General to come to the same conclusions that I did,” Peisinger wrote in response to questions from The Baltimore Sun. “Doing what is right by the decedent’s family, the deputies involved, and the community at large, once a decision had been made, was my priority. I reviewed the same evidence that the Harford County Sheriff’s Office turned over to IIU.”
Peisinger was the first state’s attorney to publicly announce his decision before receiving a report from the state’s independent investigators, according to Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office.
Frosh’s office said in a statement Thursday that it will continue to investigate Fauver’s death.
In response to Peisinger’s letter last week, Frosh’s office said its investigation had turned up evidence that the state’s attorney neither reviewed nor requested. The office said it would complete a detailed report when the investigation was finished and present it to Peisinger and then to the public.
Deputy State’s Attorney Gavin Patashnick said Thursday that Peisinger’s office does not expect the attorney general’s report to yield any new information.
“In the unlikely event that the Attorney General’s Office uncovers evidence contrary to what has already been examined, clearly, we will review that,” he said.
The Independent Investigation Division usually releases footage of incidents within 14 days of police-involved fatalities. In this case, the office said Thursday, that release was delayed “to ensure witness interviews were not compromised by their viewing of external evidence.”
Thursday’s video release and the comments from Frosh’s office represent continued fallout from the immediate response to the incident.
After the shooting, Gahler ordered his deputies not to relinquish control of the shooting scene to investigators from the attorney general’s office. Frosh, a Democrat, sued Gahler, a Republican, for “interfering” with his office’s investigation. A judge ordered Gahler to turn over the evidence.
Gahler and Peisinger were both critical of the law, and their handling of the release drew a stern rebuke from the lawmakers who created the Independent Investigation Division to bolster trust and transparency in investigations of police-involved deaths.
The sheriff blasted the attorney general’s office in an interview Thursday with The Sun, saying it left out important context in the video release. He said deputies recovered a shotgun and two AR-15 assault rifles from Fauver’s pickup truck, though he declined to say where they were found. He accused the independent investigation division of cherry-picking video that made his deputies look bad, while omitting clips that showed his deputies’ attempts to de-escalate.
“The presence of those firearms, I think, aggravated the scenario because our deputies had to be fearful, maintain their distance — those rifles have an ability to cover distance — to ensure that the threat was not moving around,” Gahler said. “A lot of times when you have just a person unarmed making threats, you can negotiate all day, you can walk with them all day, you can do a lot of things.”
“This scenario,” he added, “sadly didn’t play out in a way to benefit a resolution through the mental health channels, through de-escalation.”
Footage from the encounter also underscored the complex scenarios police often encounter, and the consequences of their split-second decisions.
Deputies had come into contact with Fauver before. At one point during the standoff, a deputy said “John, you were talking to me the other day, remember that?” He responded in the affirmative, though many of his words were hard to discern in the footage.
Fauver’s family told Baltimore Sun Media after his death that he had endured struggles with pain, opioid addiction and mental health issues.
His wife, Jennifer Bridges, said he became unusually agitated the day before the fatal shooting. She and other family members approached him the day of the shooting about getting additional care for his depression, but he didn’t seem to be able to hear what they were saying. He stormed out of the house that afternoon threatening suicide, and took off in a truck where he was known to keep a shotgun, locked away.
Gahler said she or another family member called 911 to report he was suicidal and potentially armed.
Bridges referred questions to her attorney, Cary Hansel, who has been a civil rights lawyer for 25 years. He described Bridges as “crushed.”
Whereas Gahler saw on video efforts by his deputies to resolve the situation less violently, Hansel described a long line of police errors that contributed to Fauver’s death. He said deputies neglected to use nonlethal alternatives, violated department policy and showed a lack of training for dealing with people in mental health crisis.
He also said Maddox should not have fired his handgun at Fauver.
“He fires at a time when he’s putting officers in danger and when he was too far away to be effective with his shot placement and too far away to see what’s going on,” Hansel said.
Gahler said an internal investigation of the deputies’ actions is ongoing. Sives and Maddox, both 15-year veterans of the agency, have returned to work in full capacity after being placed on administrative leave, Gahler said.
Sives’ body camera footage started by showing him stopping his police vehicle in the path of Fauver’s truck, while another deputy pulled in behind. Sives got out of his car and repeatedly ordered Fauver to put his hands up.
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Fauver rolled down the window and says something indiscernible.
“Look at this,” Fauver said, holding his cellphone. Then, he yelled, “[Expletive] you. [Expletive] you.”
Fauver threw the truck in reverse, rammed into a police car and then drove forward over the curb, coming close to Sives. Sives fired several rounds from his handgun toward the truck’s tires.
“Shots fired. Shots fired; he just tried to run me over,” Sives said on the radio.
Sives followed Fauver to another area of the parking lot. Several other deputies were there, guns drawn, ordering Fauver to put his hands up.
Sives told other deputies to block the road behind Fauver to prevent traffic from flowing behind the potentially deadly situation. He encouraged the deputy who had interacted with Fauver in recent days to continue speaking to him, while calling for a unit from the special operations division, which includes SWAT officers and crisis negotiators.
“It’s not worth it, John,” Sives said. “Don’t do it, John. Just show us your hands.”