Omaha Police Chief Alex Hayes said Tuesday that a police officer and U.S. marshal had no choice but to shoot a man in the parking lot of a busy southwest Omaha strip mall.
The lawmen who fired at Joe M. Weible narrowly avoided being run over by Weible's vehicle, Hayes said.
“We don't get to pick the location where these (shootings) happen,” Hayes said. “When you're thrust into a situation where you have to use deadly force, it happens where it happens.”
Hayes said officers “try to minimize what the backdrop is when those shots are fired” and try to control where they point their weapons.
Hayes said Weible, 35, did not have a gun but did have knives in his possession. He said Weible accelerated and drove his pickup truck at a high rate of speed toward Officer Jeff Gassaway and the marshal.
Hayes said the threat was from the charging vehicle.
“It's a deadly weapon,” Hayes said of the pickup, a 1998 Chevy S-10. “It will kill you if you don't get out of the way or try to stop it.”
Four to five shots were fired. One struck Weible. Police have not said if the other bullets struck the pickup.
The shooting happened about 2 p.m. Monday at the strip mall near 120th Street and West Center Road. Weible died later at Creighton University Medical Center.
Hayes said it was not clear who fired the fatal shot.
Gassaway, 44, is a 13-year police veteran. In 2008, he shot an escapee from a state prison after he swerved his vehicle at Gassaway.
Gassaway was honored by the U.S. Attorney's Office for investigating street gangs and shared the 2004 CrimeStoppers Officer of the Year Award with another officer.
The U.S. Marshals Service refused to identify the marshal involved in the shooting.
Both Gassaway and the marshal are on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
The Metro Area Fugitive Task Force is led by U.S. marshals. It has 12 full-time members — six marshals, six Omaha police officers, one Douglas County sheriff's deputy and one Council Bluffs police officer. There are also nine part-time members.
The task force operates in both Iowa and Nebraska and works to take fugitives off the streets.
U.S. marshals also are responsible for protecting federal courts, transporting prisoners and other duties.
Hayes said the task force had been working with the woman who alleged she was assaulted by Weible. She called 911 on Nov. 29.
An arrest warrant was issued, charging Weible with first-degree sexual assault and attempted strangulation of his former girlfriend.
Weible called the ex-girlfriend, 26, on Monday and asked her to meet him at the shopping center.
That place was a familiar meeting spot for the couple, Hayes said.
The woman notified police of the phone call.
Task force members arrived before the meeting time. Weible already was there, sitting in his truck. Law officers, some of them in vehicles, surrounded him and ordered him out of the pickup.
Gassaway and a marshal approached on foot.
Weible started the truck, tried to back up but was blocked in by police vehicles.
He accelerated in the direction of Gassaway and the marshal, who were about 6 feet away, Hayes said.
Both fired their weapons as they got out of the way of the truck.
After he was shot, Weible's vehicle continued forward and crashed into two parked cars near the entrance to a Baker's Supermarket, Hayes said.
He was then Tasered, Hayes said.
The Police Department's policy on use of deadly force apparently covers situations such as the Weible shooting:
“Shot(s) will not be fired at or from a moving vehicle except as the ultimate measure of self-defense, or defense of another. Firing of weapons at a moving vehicle will only be done in extreme, close-range circumstances when all other means of stopping the vehicle containing a dangerous felon have been attempted and have failed.”
The Weible shooting was the fifth officer-involved shooting in Omaha this year that resulted in a death. Omaha hadn't had a police-involved fatal shooting since 2007.
The total number of police-involved shootings for 2010 is nine when accounting for people who were injured but not killed.
Hayes said the task force had tried to find Weible before Monday's shooting.
“We had to get him off the street before he tried to hurt this woman again,” he said.
Last week, members of the task force searched Weible's father's home in Cozad, Neb.
“They looked under the beds and everything, even the building out back,” Jack Weible, 81, said. “I asked them what the deal was but they wouldn't say. They didn't believe he wasn't here.”
Weible's father said his son had an off-and-on relationship with the woman he was accused of assaulting.
The couple met at Nebraska By-Products in Lexington, Neb., where Joe Weible drove a truck. They lived together in an apartment there.
The couple split up for several years, Jack Weible said, but had gotten back together in the last few months.
“I thought he was happy,” Jack Weible said. “They went to get her stuff about three or four months ago, and I thought they were getting along good.”
The ex-girlfriend declined to comment on Tuesday.
Joe Weible moved to Omaha about six months ago and worked for a lumber company, his father said. He graduated from Cozad High School and had previously lived in Kearney. ..Source.. by Jason Kuiper and Juan Perez Jr.