Cassville officer returns to work after shooting

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Prosecutor talked to deceased's mother before releasing decision

After an almost two-month investigation, Cpl. Donnie Privett of the Cassville Police Department has returned to work after it was ruled his use of force was justified in the June 10 incident that killed a Cassville man.

Johnnie Cox, Barry County prosecutor, said the decision to not file charges was based on internal reports from the Cassville Police Department and Barry County Sheriff's Department, each of which responded to the scene; autopsy and toxicology reports; and a full investigation by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

Originally, Cassville Police Chief Dana Kammerlohr said an investigation would take about 10 days, but Cox said the nearly 60 days it took is not out of the ordinary.

"That's normal because the highway patrol has to go through the process of compiling everything and having the investigation approved in Jefferson City," he said. "Also, the toxicology report has to be sent to a lab in St. Louis, and that can take anywhere from four to six weeks."

A release from Kammerlohr said based on the investigation, all evidence supports Privett's account of the events in which he was attacked by Jonathan Gerster-Thomas, 25, of Cassville.

Cox said there were no illegal drugs or alcohol involved in the incident, and Gerster-Thomas' official cause of death was due to injuries sustained from a gunshot wound to the torso. He said his decision to not file charges against Privett was after considering all the information available.

"You have to consider all the circumstances involved with the threat and if someone is defending himself in a manner that is justifiable, based on the assault and the threat that's faced," he said. "You have to have reason to believe they needed to use deadly force to defend themselves from the threat of deadly force."

Cox said before releasing his decision not to prosecute Privett, he spoke with Gerster-Thomas' mother, who he said understands the situation.

"I had a conversation with his mom, and she said she didn't know why her son did what he did, but understands why Cpl. Privett defended himself," Cox said.

Kammerlohr said at about 7:30 a.m. June 10, the Cassville Police Department responded to a 911 call at 600 Old Exeter Road for a disturbance.

According to Kammerlohr, Gerster-Thomas allegedly assaulted Privett with a pipe upon his arrival, forcing Privett to draw his weapon and shoot Thomas, who died en route to a Springfield hospital.

Privett was placed on paid administrative leave since the incident, pending the results of the investigation, which concluded Friday.

A 20-year employee of the Barry County Sheriff's Department and five-year Cassville police chief, Kammerlohr said she could not remember the last officer-involved shooting in the city, and such incidents rarely occur.

Privett could not be reached for comment on this story. When asked questions detailing the event and a reaction to the decision, Kammerlohr said, "The prosecutor's decision speaks for itself."

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