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Ickes: Body-cam video of Bettendorf shooting is graphic, moving
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Ickes: Body-cam video of Bettendorf shooting is graphic, moving

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It's no wonder the chief choked up.

The body-camera videos from the Sept. 3 fatal shooting by police in Bettendorf are as graphic as you might imagine.

Chief Keith Kimball has declined to release the videos publicly to protect the minor children who were present in the home daycare that day, along with the privacy of the man who perished.

However, Kimball did not hesitate when asked to show me and another reporter the videos, taking the time to answer our questions during an hour-long visit to the police department Tuesday. He recognizes and appreciates the importance of law enforcement conducting its business transparently, especially when a life is taken.

The death of Timothy Clevenger, 53, was a sad consequence of his actions. But the actions of Officer Patrick Mesick spared the lives of the innocent.

The quality of the video is excellent, depicting that it was an incongruously beautiful noon hour that Thursday as officers responded to a call of a 4-year-old being held at knife point at a home on 16 1/2 Street. The call came from a friend of the daycare operator, who rented the home owned by Clevenger.

It is not clear why the woman didn't call police herself, but the third-party friend was able to convey to police how dangerous the situation was.

When Clevenger arrived, the daycare operator, "knew something was different about him that day," Kimball said. Police later learned he had purchased a filet knife and machete just 15 minutes before going to the house.

Once inside, he ordered three adults and four children into the basement. He kept the little girl with him and intended to have firearms delivered to the house, police later learned.

At least a half-dozen officers can be seen on body cameras worn by Mesick and Sgt. George Ramos, but other officers also were on the property. No one knew for sure where Clevenger was in the house, and they approached with considerable caution.

Mesick had a rifle loaded with live ammunition and Ramos had a weapon containing a less-lethal round. Both men approached from a neighboring yard, peering through slats in a fence to see what they could make out of what was happening. They saw the garage door was open and approached the inside door to the house with weapons drawn.

Clevenger's voice could be heard inside, sounding angry and upset. The little girl, who actually was just 3 years old, let out a whimpering cry.

When police first pushed the door open, it slammed shut. Clevenger was using his foot to push the door closed.

Officers repeatedly announced, "Police!" and "Police! Open up!"

As the door was forced open, the image that came into view was horrifying. Clevenger was knelt on one knee with the child in front of his body, one arm around her neck and the knife sheath pressed to her throat.

In an instant, it was over.

Mesick fired one shot from the doorway, striking Clevenger in the head. His body barely had time to hit the floor before Ramos swept in and grabbed the girl, cooing over and over, "Come on, baby. Come on, baby."

As he carried her through the garage and into the driveway, another officer approached, offering to take the child. Ramos did not let her go.

Away from the house, he set the child down and gently asked her questions; "What's your name, Honey?"

Blood was visible on her face, hand and legs. She'd sustained minor injuries from Clevenger, and some of the blood was his.

The child was crying, but she was not hysterical. She got out her name and told Ramos, "I'm OK. I want Mommy."

As he moved toward the front yard, Ramos' camera showed the other children that police were removing from the house through a basement window. Twin boys, about the same age as the little girl, also wanted their parents; they just wanted to go home.

The officers — fathers and grandfathers themselves — calmed and reassured the children. One little boy from the basement didn't know what had happened upstairs, only that police had come when he was afraid. As he crossed the lawn to join the other children, he declared, "I want to be a police when I grow up."

The boy had no idea that Mesick was pacing inside the garage.

The officer's astoundingly measured response at the scene remained intact even as he took the one precise shot that dictated an outcome that alternately would have been much more dire.

He was instructed by other officers almost immediately to step out of the house. There was no useful purpose in him lingering. It wasn't until he stepped back into the garage that the body-camera audio gave away one small detail of his reaction to what had happened.

The officer's breathing became labored as he released his body's adrenaline with deep, exhaling breaths.

Pushing the pause button on the video, the chief dabbed at his eyes, shrugged and said, "They just chose the right door. I think we saved everybody's life in that house that day."

The decision to enter the house precisely where Clevenger was kneeling was a fortunate one. The decision by Mesick to use lethal force, even though a less-lethal option may have had the desired effect, also was correct. When that door swung open, he was right there. He had one or two seconds to respond to what he saw, which was a man very clearly threatening the life of a child.

The chief has sympathy for Clevenger's family. Of course.

"I'm also angry at him for what he put my officers through," Kimball said. "You'll never be the same after you've taken someone's life."

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