The civil trial of a Mayes County deputy who fatally shot a man in the early morning hours of New Year’s Day 2014 began Monday in federal court in Tulsa.
Mayes County Deputy Kyle Wilson shot and killed 33-year-old Shane Bridges at his rural home near Chelsea. While official reports state that Wilson shot Bridges after Bridges fired a revolver at Wilson, attorneys for Bridges’ widow, Janelle Bridges, said the late Bridges did not have a weapon at the time and that Wilson fired through the front door and wall of the house, hitting Bridges twice.
Prior to the shooting, the Bridges and six children, including the 3-year-old child of Janelle Bridgess sister who had been placed in the Bridges’ custody, were celebrating the new year by firing off weapons in their yard. When the 3-year-old’s mother called and asked Shane Bridges to bring the child to her house, which was nearby, she called 911 and told authorities that Bridges had sounded drunk on the phone, was threatening the child and had also threatened suicide.
Wilson, who knew Bridges, was dispatched to the scene and arrived with no lights or sirens on. When Wilson arrived and exited his patrol car, he said Bridges exited the house and fired a gun at him. Wilson said he returned fire, emptying his service weapon and hitting Bridges twice and fatally wounding him. The county’s district attorney later said the shooting was justified.
However, Janelle Bridges’ attorneys said that Shane Bridges got up to see who was pulling into his driveway and had just closed the front door when Wilson opened fire on the house. At least two of the bullets traveled through the wall, hitting and killing Bridges, they said.
The lawsuit against Wilson, which originally included Mayes County and Sheriff Mike Reed, was filed more than four years ago and even reached the U.S. Supreme Court, after U.S. District Judge Greg Frizzell and the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals refused to dismiss the case against Wilson on the basis of qualified immunity. The high court declined to hear the case earlier this year.
On Monday, a jury of six women and two men were selected to hear the case. The first day of trial featured opening statements by both sides and testimony from OSBI agent Brad Green, one of the crime scene investigators.
Janelle Bridges’ attorney Thomas Mortensen told jurors that evidence would show that Bridges had to slam the front door shut in order to close it, and when after checking to see who was pulling into his drive way that night, he slammed the door shut and Wilson opened fire on the house, firing 13 shots total.
Mortensen also said that photos taken by OSBI agents, who arrived at the scene later, do not match early photos of the scene taken by other deputies who responded and that law enforcement who were the first to respond “did a bit of staging of the scene.”
Wilson, wearing his green Mayes County deputy uniform and utility belt, sat quietly as his attorney Stephen Geries told jurors how Wilson and Bridges had known each other from high school and from both men living in the Chouteau area for most of their lives.
“He considered Shane a friend. Not a close friend, but an acquaintance,” Geries told the jury.
Much of Monday’s trial was spent by Mortensen questioning Green on his examination of the bullet holes, recovered bullets and other evidence at the scene.
Green testified that 13 shots had been fired by Wilson. At least two of those bullets are believed to have struck an SUV that was parked between Wilson’s patrol car and the house. At least 10 bullets hit the front door and around the front door of Bridges’ house. Eight of those 10 bullets punched through the door or wall, and the location of six bullets that traveled through the house could be accounted for, either by bullet holes in the far wall of the house or the bullets themselves were recovered, Green said.
Two bullets were later found lodged in Bridges’ body, though Wilson said he fired the shots before Bridges re-entered the house.
Green testified that he could not say where a bullet that broke the back window of the SUV came from, however, and that it would have been very difficult to tell whether Bridges had opened fire on Wilson since there was no damage to Wilson’s patrol car, which was parked in front of an empty field.
Green also testified he took samples of a blood-like substance from the floor just inside the front door, but those samples were not tested to verify whether they were indeed blood.
The trial is expected to last four to five days.