COUNCIL BLUFFS — The Council Bluffs police officer who shot an Omaha man earlier this month was justified in his use of force because he thought it was necessary to defend himself and others, the Pottawattamie County attorney said Friday.
Officer Trevor Benson shot twice at Daton Petrey on Feb. 1 — first as Petrey suddenly accelerated in reverse, pushing Benson backward, and a second time as Petrey fled from the officer. Although Benson’s cruiser video was not turned on, surveillance and additional cruiser videos helped Pottawattamie County Attorney Matt Wilber to reach a decision.
“It’s a split-second decision the officer makes on the scene,” Council Bluffs Police Chief Tim Carmody said at a press conference. “We’re very thankful Trevor’s alive. He could have been much more seriously injured or killed.”
Petrey, 21, remains in the hospital in fair condition, but Wilber said Friday he expects Petrey will be released in the next day or two. Petrey then will be booked into the Douglas County Jail on a warrant charging him with violating parole from a 2015 robbery conviction. Wilber said he plans to charge Petrey with assaulting an officer with a dangerous weapon, assault on a passenger and looting.
Wilber detailed what happened in the early morning of Feb. 1 outside a Bluffs gas station. He based his findings on video surveillance and interviews with Benson; Petrey’s front-seat passenger, Terry Stalnaker; and other witnesses and officers. Petrey declined to speak with authorities.
Petrey and Stalnaker, 59, planned to go to the FasMart at 611 E. Broadway St. to use the Wi-Fi and buy a cigar. Petrey, who was driving a 1997 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme, pulled up to the side of the station, loitered there and then parked in front of the store. The two men got out of the car and headed for the door, but a clerk told them to leave because the police were on their way.
The men returned to the car. Benson arrived around 3:10 a.m. and blocked the front of the Oldsmobile. Benson spoke to Petrey through the driver’s-side window and asked him for his I.D. Petrey declined and “started giving (Benson) the lip,” Stalnaker told police. Benson asked Petrey to take his key out of the ignition, and he did. Benson then asked him to exit the car, but he refused.
As Benson opened the driver’s door and told Petrey he would have to force him out, Petrey put the key back into the ignition and accelerated backward. Benson told investigators he was thinking he had to have “quick feet” in order to not get run over by the speeding car. The officer was able to stay on his feet and shot once, three seconds after Petrey started to accelerate.
The bullet went through Petrey’s left armpit and out his back.
Meanwhile, Stalnaker attempted to get out of the car’s passenger side, but he was dragged 40 feet backward and run over. He suffered a swollen foot, but he refused medical attention at the scene.
Petrey then drove forward to a halt and put his hands up. Benson, now on the car’s passenger side, told investigators he thought the incident was over.
But Petrey lowered his hands and drove forward, Wilber said. Benson fired a second shot into the back passenger side of the car as it drove past him.
Another officer, Josh Porter, had arrived at the scene and pursued Petrey.
The Oldsmobile swerved behind the gas station and quickly turned, but hit a power pole guy wire, causing the car to flip onto its roof.
Petrey got out and ran to a nearby alleyway, where officers found him hiding under a vehicle. Authorities found no weapons on Petrey and could not determine whether he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Wilber said the time between Benson touching the door handle to the second shot was 17 seconds.
“At the time shots were fired by Officer Benson, he reasonably believed that deadly force was necessary to defend himself and others in the general public from deadly force being used by Daton Petrey, as well as risk to life and/or safety of himself and others,” Wilber said in a written report.
Benson, who has been on the force for six years, was placed on paid administrative leave. He will see a mental health professional before returning to work in about a week, Carmody said.