State: Smyrna officer justified in fatal shooting

SMYRNA — A Smyrna police officer was justified in shooting and killing a shotgun-wielding man who refused to drop the weapon in a May 2 incident, the Delaware Department of Justice concluded in a report released this past week.

After an investigation, the DOJ’s Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust said it found that Kenneth S. Mathena, 52, refused several commands to drop his weapon. That view was supported by a witness who said Mathena’s weapon was raised and pointed at officers.

Norman Wood

Norman Wood

At that point, the DOJ said, Cpl. David Walton was justified in discharging his weapon.

“Cpl. Walton discharged his weapon in response to the threat of death or bodily injury to himself and others, including the other police officers on the scene and Mr. Mathena’s girlfriend and son, who were still inside the apartment,” the DOJ’s report read.

When asked for comment Friday, Smyrna Police Department Chief Norman Wood released the following statement:

“It is very unfortunate that one of our officers was forced to use deadly force as a result of someone else’s actions,” he said.

“As we value all life, the use of deadly force is something that we all hope we will never have to face during our career. My officer did his job according to our policies and state law and I can’t ask of any more than that.”

The incident unfolds

The sequence began at approximately 11:22 p.m. on May 1 when Smyrna PD officers responded to a domestic disturbance complaint on Malvern Place in the Sunnyside Apartments, the DOJ said.

Authorities found Mr. Mathena’s girlfriend placed the call in response to an argument between them; it was reported that “he was intoxicated and having a breakdown and that he was armed with a shotgun,” according to the DOJ’s conclusions.

The report read that “Earlier in the evening she and Mr. Mathena had gone out for dinner and drinks, and she believed that Mr. Mathena had also been drinking at home that day.

“When they returned to their apartment, an argument ensued stemming from multiple issues. Mr. Mathena knocked over a television, threw a drink at his girlfriend and threw his glass on the floor.”

Investigation concluded that the girlfriend’s adult son who also lives at the apartment arrived during the argument, received assurances that everything was OK.

“They said it was and the son went to his room, but he heard the argument continue,” the DOJ said in its report.

Eventually, the report said, Mr. Mathena was found to have left the scene in his vehicle and carrying a shotgun before officers arrived.

Police left the scene, the report said, and Mr. Mathena arrived shortly afterward, “saying he needed to get his things.”

Holding a shotgun, Mr. Mathena entered the apartment with a key as his girlfriend and her son “retreated to the bedroom for the second time, locked the door, pushed a dresser in front of it and called the police.

“They could hear Mr. Mathena moving around in the apartment and yelling,” the report stated. “His girlfriend reported hearing him saying either ‘kill him.’ or ‘killing himself.”

Another call arrives

Smyrna PD received another call at approximately 12:18 a,m., and two officers arrived and then walked through the parking lot as another office approached between buildings, the DOJ concluded.

The two officers took cover behind parked vehicles as they neared the apartment, and “Mr. Mathena was standing on the front porch of the apartment with the shotgun in his hands.”

Two officers told Mr. Mathena to drop the weapon, the report said, and were met with obscenities and refusal. “Cpl. Walton then fired 10 shots from his department issued patrol rifle,” the report stated. “He repeated his command for

Mr. Mathena to drop the weapon two additional times and then fired one additional shot, striking Mr. Mathena.”

According to the DOJ, investigation found that officers “rendered aid until medical personnel arrived and transported Mr. Mathena to the Bayhealth Emergency Center in Smyrna, where he was pronounced dead at 12:56 a.m. from a gunshot to the chest.”

After police at the scene took possession of Mr. Mathena’s gun, the DOJ said it was found to be a Mossberg 12 gauge shotgun that was not loaded.

“One live 12 gauge shotgun round was found on the front seat or Mr. Mathena’s vehicle,” the report said.

While Mr. Mathena’s girlfriend and her son said they heard shouts of “police department” and shots being fired, they did not know the source of the shots, the DOJ found.

An interview found that a witness told of viewing the incident from the window of a nearby residence.

“When the police arrived the second time, the neighbor saw Mr. Mathena on the porch with what appeared to be a shotgun,” according to the report.

“He could hear the police yelling commands for Mr. Mathena to drop the gun, but Mr. Mathena was not complying.

He saw Mr. Mathena appearing to point the gun at the officers and then heard the shots.

“He also observed the officers giving first aid to Mr. Mathena.”

The investigators

The DOJ said Deputy Attorney General Allison E. Reardon reviewed the use of force, and Jean Rothenburger was the chief investigator.

“Investigators examined the crime scene and also reviewed evidence, reports written by officers who responded to the scene and witness interviews,” according to the report.

As the investigation began Smyrna PD said it sought assistance from an outside agency not connected to the incident and immediately contacted the Dover PD to assist. Dover PD began investigation into the shooting in conjunction with the Delaware Attorney General’s office, authorities said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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