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May 03, 2012 8:02 am

County attorney: police justified in shooting

Written by CJ Baker

Nicholas Ungar shot at police and pointed gun at woman, report says


A Powell police officer was justified in fatally shooting Nicholas A. Ungar on Feb. 9, Park County Attorney Bryan Skoric has concluded.
The morning shooting ended a more than four-hour standoff between the 31-year-old Ungar and police at the Park Motel in which he falsely claimed to have hostages and multiple firearms.

In the hour leading up to the fatal shot from police, Ungar fired a round that’s believed to have skipped over the heads of two officers and pointed his revolver at an officer who took cover. Seconds before he was shot, Ungar pulled a woman he claimed was a hostage up to the motel room window with the gun at her head, Skoric said in a review of the incident he released Wednesday.
At about 7:25 a.m., police saw Ungar in the window and the handgun no longer pointing at the woman — Brook-Lynn Jones of Powell. At that point, Powell Police Officer Paul Sapp took the shot at Ungar, Skoric said.
“Officer Sapp acted in a manner consistent with the law,” wrote Skoric in his review. “He was justified in acting to prevent a perceived harm to Brook-Lynn Jones, whom he rightly believed to be a hostage held by Ungar, based on Ungar’s own actions and the words and actions of Jones herself.”
Jones told police via phone during the standoff that she and three other women were being held hostage. In reality, she was the only woman in the room and apparently was there willingly. She later told police Ungar had told her to say there were hostages.
“The primary focus that morning was the life of the hostages, the innocent,” said Powell Police Chief Roy Eckerdt in a Wednesday interview. Although it turns out there weren’t actual hostages, “that doesn’t change what happened that morning,” Eckerdt said. “We have to operate on the facts we have right there.”
In a separate interview, Skoric said “the only information” police had indicated that Jones was a hostage. Citing the statements Jones and Ungar made, the gunshots and Ungar’s earlier fight with his father, Skoric questioned what information police would have had to think “it was a set-up.”
Eckerdt said after the incident that being involved in a shooting is “every officer’s nightmare.”
“It was an unfortunate situation. It was a bad situation, and would we have liked to see it end differently? Sure, but the choices weren’t up to us,” he said Wednesday.
Ungar had been using methamphetamine the night before the incident at the Park Motel; early that morning, he left the motel and got into a fight with his father, cutting him with a knife in his face and chest.
Ungar and Jones then returned to the motel, and he proceeded to smoke more meth. That and marijuana were found in his system during an autopsy.
By 3:12 a.m., the time police were called, at least two shots had been fired.
Police were summoned to the East Second Street motel after the guest next door to Ungar called 911 to report gunshots and that someone — apparently Ungar — was cursing, screaming and threatening to murder someone, according to Skoric’s review.
An officer contacted Ungar by phone, but he refused to come out of his room and speak with police. He claimed to be heavily armed and to have hostages, the review says.
At 5:10 a.m., as more officers arrived on scene, a law enforcement crisis negotiator contacted Ungar by phone. Over the next 70 minutes, Ungar told police — untruthfully, it turned out — that he had anywhere between two and four female hostages with him in the room. One, he said, was a 16-year-old girl duct-taped in the bathtub and another was a pregnant woman, said Skoric’s review.
Every time police asked for the females to be released, Ungar responded that he would exchange them for his father — who he said he wanted to kill, Skoric said; Ungar said the earlier altercation with his father was self-defense.
Ungar untruthfully told the negotiator that he had an SKS rifle he’d made fully automatic and an explosive mix of materials in the motel room’s microwave as well.
“This was going to end big and make the front pages,” Ungar reportedly told police.
At 6:20 a.m., Ungar said his phone’s battery was dying and that he was hanging up.
Sometime after that, Ungar fired a shot that is believed to have hit the ground, then skipped over the head of some of the assembled police officers, including Sapp. The round ultimately struck a motor home.
Shortly after 7 a.m., as police tried to re-establish communications with Ungar, an officer saw Ungar point the revolver at him. The officer felt threatened enough to reposition himself, according to the review.
A few moments later, Ungar was seen waiving the handgun out the window of his motel room and sweeping it toward police, Skoric wrote.
He then pulled Jones in front of him with the gun under her chin, before disappearing. Moments later, Ungar again pulled Jones into view of the window, this time with the handgun at her head.
Shortly after that, Sapp saw the gun pointing away from Jones and shot Ungar.
There was a shot fired by Ungar at that point, but it’s not clear whether that shot came first or at the same time as Sapp’s, Skoric said.
A friend of Ungar’s, Chris Swartwood, told the Tribune after the shooting that he saw the motel room door open before police shot Ungar. The review says the door was barricaded with a bedframe.
Skoric said the three-page review was a compilation of an extensive investigation by the Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation that included hundreds of photographs, a 118-page report and 28 interviews.
Some things, such as the number of shots Ungar fired or his motives that night, will likely never be known, Skoric said.
At 1:26 a.m., a couple hours before the standoff began, Ungar texted an acquaintance to say he was going to die that night.
“But so are four or five of them,” he said in a text quoted in the review.
Skoric said Powell police did not get an opportunity to read his review before he finished it, with Eckerdt actually getting a copy after it had been distributed to media.
Sapp was cleared by a separate internal Powell Police investigation some time ago and has been on duty since then, Eckerdt said.
Eckerdt said he hoped the release of more facts about the incident would give community members who’ve had concerns about police’s actions the opportunity to move forward.

 

8 comments

  • Comment Link May 03, 2012 9:49 am posted by Slick

    Tragic. Terrible circumstance. This will never really answer all the questions that we have. Maybe some type of closure. All in all, people lost a son, brother, father, and friend. No report of guilt will ever change anything. I miss my friend. 31 is to young. RIP brother, god bless you and your family.

  • Comment Link May 03, 2012 11:32 am posted by BRANDON SCHAFFNER

    Nick Ungar was my best friend ... I think this has a bunch of lies in here to make the officer justified ..... I personally think the police didn't like Nick and used this as their excuse to shoot him in the head . R.I.P BRO... LOVE ALWAYS BIG B(BRANDON SCHAFFNER)!

  • Comment Link May 03, 2012 2:03 pm posted by 18-1

    Half these comments come from people who dont have the guts to do what the men and women of the Powell PD do everyday. If it weren't for people like Ungar this world would be a better safer place. Thank you PPD for what you do!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment Link May 03, 2012 4:13 pm posted by brook lynn jones

    The Powell police is full of crap they don't know what went on in the room. Hi my name is Brook-lynn Jones I was the women in the room with Nick and everything they have said is not correct there was no stand off between him and Powell pd. He never held a gun to my head in the window before they murdered him in front of my eyes he took his last breath before the cops came in to take me to the office. This is false information that is being printed in the papers from the time he died to today. Maybe if u want the actual information you should go to the ones who knew what happened and are not pulling it out of their butts like Powell pd. Get the real facts. Nick you are more of a man then so called cops. You will always live on with the true people that love and miss u. Never forget Feb 9 2012 the morning we lost a great guy for no reason he was taken from us. Love you and miss u Nick thank u for saving my life.

  • Comment Link May 03, 2012 5:39 pm posted by Loki

    Brandon. I'm sorry for your loss but what if he would have killed one of the police officers he was shooting at? What is your defense on that one. Oh wait I guess he wasnt really aiming at them right? Regardless he still discharged a firearm in the general direction. Obviously you have something against the police ,but I bet if you ever were in a situation to where you needed the help of the police you would not hesitate to ask for their help. Just put yourself in the officers shoes what would you have done in their situation? Should you have just continued to let him shoot? I think not. I am a war veteran and I have been shot at numerous times and there is no way I would tolerate anyone shooting at me intentional or not and just let them keep doing it. It was an unfortunate incident but regardless of how you feel you cannot place blame on an officer who perceived a deadly threat because he was being shot at? He to has a family to think about going home to? Did ur friend consider the well being of the innocent bystanders who could have been killed or injuries by one of his random shots? What if one of your family members would have been on the end of one of those random bullets would you be angry if the police would have just let him keep shooting and did nothing. They did what they had to do to end the awful situation that it was.

  • Comment Link May 04, 2012 8:01 am posted by Disgusted EX taxpayer

    One word for this fiasco...K-A-N-G-A-R-O-O.Typical Park County justice...lies and more lies.Sure glad I left Syria.

  • Comment Link May 07, 2012 5:10 am posted by Bob Smirnoff

    So what DID happen, Jones?

  • Comment Link May 07, 2012 11:42 pm posted by BRANDONSCHAFFNER

    brook lynn jones .... CAN YOU PLEASE CONTACT ME ... THIS IS BRANDON SCHAFFNER MY EMAIL IS BRANDONSCHAFFNER.CLEAR@GMAIL.COM ... I WOULD LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU !!!!!

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