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Prosecutor rules police shooting of man justified

by Kim Fickett
Landmark reporter

Platte County Prosecuting Attorney Eric Zahnd announced Tuesday at the Platte County Courthouse that his office determined that four Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers and a Platte County Deputy Sheriff acted properly when fatally shooting a man who had opened fire on them after a high-speed chase along Interstate 29 on May 22.

Seth L. Martin, 23, of Westboro, died from multiple gunshot wounds after he twice fired multiple shots at officers from an assault rifle.

“Platte County doesn’t have a sitting grand jury so the decision falls upon me,” stated Zahnd. “I have reviewed this matter thoroughly. The actions of the troopers and deputy involved were reasonable and justified.

“In all likelihood, the officers’ actions saved their own lives and those of innocent travelers driving northbound on Interstate 29.”

Zahnd presented a videotape of the incident at the press conference that was taken from a dashboard camera of one of the trooper’s vehicles.

The videotape shows Martin’s Silver Dodge pickup truck emitting sparks from the driver’s side wheels because the tires had been deflated by spiked stop strips laid by a deputy earlier in the chase.

The chase originated in Buchanan County, where Martin was speeding 97 mph, he continued into Platte County exceeding speeds of 100 mph. The pursuit lasted approximately 20 minutes,

The tape also shows that as a state trooper was standing in the median of I-29, attempting to deploy another set of stop strips, the truck abruptly swerved toward the trooper.

Martin then brakes and appears to intentionally skid the truck in a clockwise direction so the truck is stopped, facing oncoming traffic. Martin immediately grabbed an Armalite M15A2 semiautomatic assault rifle (equivalent to the military’s M-16).

As Martin got out of his vehicle he fired shots at the officers. The officers then returned fire. Zahnd continued that Martin ran toward the ditch and up an embankment on the west side of southbound I-29.

Officers repeatedly ordered Martin to drop his weapon and show his hands.

According to officers' statements, Martin sat on the embankment facing the officers and appeared to be doing something with his weapon. After about a 30-second pause and the officers continuing to tell Martin to drop his weapon, Martin lifted and aimed his weapon at the officers and began to fire. Officers returned fire, striking Martin eight times including two shots to his head.

“When Mr. Martin refused the officers’ commands to drop his weapon and started firing again, he placed the lives of the officers and anyone traveling northbound on I-29 in grave danger,” said Zahnd. “Mr. Martin’s shots, though directed at the officers, were traveling across the median as traffic continued to pass northbound. Had it not been for those officers’ actions, it is likely one of them or an innocent passerby would have been wounded or killed by Mr. Martin.”

According to the autopsy report, Martin died from wounds sustained during the shooting. He was pronounced dead at Truman Medical Center during the early morning hours of May 23. The autopsy also indicated that Martin’s blood-alcohol content was twice over the legal limit.

“It’s always regrettable when law enforcement has to result in deadly force. I believe their actions were reasonable and justified,” stated Zahnd.

Investigators located 18 spent casings from Martin’s rifle, as well as two empty magazines, and six full boxes of ammunition.

Zahnd stated that earlier in the day, Martin had fled the scene of a hit-and-run accident in Nodaway County, Missouri.

Zahnd said in investigating the incident, Martin earlier had told a friend that “when he died he was going to die in a big way.”

Subsequent investigation revealed Martin had several prior convictions, including convictions for drug distribution and stealing, and was on electronically-monitored house arrest at the time of the shooting.



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