Click photo to enlarge
Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey shows the location where a suspect was shot by a Chico...
Panel finds shooting of Chico man justified
By GREG WELTER - Staff Writer
Article Launched: 04/13/2007 12:00:00 AM PDT
A 31-year-old Chico man who reportedly tried to kill himself last month, then survived a shot to the lower torso earlier this month in a confrontation with police, may finally believe he was meant to live.
According to a multiagency law enforcement team investigating the shooting, suspect Dwaine Earl Cowart lived through a textbook attempt at "suicide by cop."
Scott Zuschin, a veteran officer -- but with the Chico department less than two years -- was found to be justified in using lethal force against Cowart, who was coming at him with two large knives, and ignored commands to drop them.
Cowart's wife called 9-1-1 shortly before midnight on April 1 to tell Chico police her husband had a knife and was cutting his upper arm, in an admitted attempt to commit suicide.
In a dramatic 9-1-1 tape played Thursday by Butte County District Attorney Mike Ramsey, Cowart's wife told dispatcher Fred Holman her husband had tried to take his life by slicing his wrists about two weeks before, but wasn't successful.
Police were summoned in that incident, and Cowart was referred to Butte County Behavioral Health, which held him for three days for observation.
Cowart's wife said her husband was now cutting himself in the upper arm on the advice of his mother, whom she claimed was psychotic, and told him he hadn't done it right the last time.
In the background of the call, Cowart could be heard saying he was trying to cut an artery.
As Zuschin raced toward the apartment house, near the corner of Eaton Road and Floral Avenue, Cowart's wife is heard pleading with him repeatedly to drop the knife.
The woman said her husband was on a number of antidepressant and anti-psychotic drugs, and named off five of them.
In the call, she begs him to put down a second, larger knife -- a butcher knife -- which he apparently retrieved just before he went outside to confront the officer.
On several occasions, Cowart is heard in the background saying "They better shoot me," and "They are going to have to shoot me. I'm going to rush them."
At the advice of Holman, the woman stepped outside the apartment, but Cowart followed her, a knife in each hand.
Despite receiving a minor wound while trying to reason with her husband, the woman said she didn't feel threatened.
She told Holman her husband had threatened to rush officers during his last suicide attempt, but didn't.
As Zuschin arrived, Cowart advanced toward him, the knives raised in the air. The officer commanded Cowart, at least twice, to drop the knives and get on the ground.
Cowart moved to within 20 feet of the officer.
Fearing the worst, Cowart's wife asked Holman "Are they going to have to shoot him if he doesn't deliver the knives?" Holman responded with "Hopefully not."
"Will they shoot him in the leg or something," she then asked.
Just as the dispatcher explained "No, they have Tasers, too," a shot rang out.
Breaking into tears, she asked "They didn't shoot him in the chest or anything, did they?"
Holman said he didn't know.
The shot, which struck the man in the upper groin, stopped his advance and sent him to the ground.
Zuschin, still the only officer on the scene, ran toward Cowart and kicked the knives away. In the background of the 9-1-1 call, Zuschin was heard telling the suspect, "Stay with me buddy. Stay with me."
Several people reportedly "heard" the confrontation, but Ramsey said Cowart's wife placed the only 9-1-1 call about the incident.
Cowart was treated for his wounds, and released from Enloe Medical Center eight days later.
Doctors decided to leave the bullet in his body, and, incredibly, noted that it hadn't touched any bones, arteries or organs, and hadn't event nicked a bowel.
He was booked into the Butte County Jail in Oroville, arraigned Tuesday, and is expected to enter a plea next Tuesday on charges of assault with a deadly weapon on a peace officer. He is being held in lieu of $50,000 bail.
Zuschin, who wasn't armed with a Taser stun gun, told an investigating panel he had considered backing away from the man and waiting until help arrived, but said he considered Cowart's wife to be in immediate danger.
Zuschin was placed on paid administrative leave, but has since returned to regular patrol duty. Police Chief Bruce Hagerty said both Zuschin and Holman were highly professional in dealing with the dramatic incident. He said Zuschin hadn't been involved in a shooting incident before.
Staff writer Greg Welter can be reached at 896-7768 or email@example.com.
BACKGROUND: A 31-year-old Chico man was shot by a police officer April 1, when he came at the officer with two large knives, outside the suspect's apartment near the corner of Eaton Road and Floral Avenue.
WHAT'S NEW: The suspect survived the wound and was arrested for assault with a deadly weapon. The officer was found to be justified in using lethal force.
WHAT'S NEXT: The suspect will appear in court Tuesday to enter a plea.