Police shootings are often kept in a shroud of secrecy until an investigation is completed – and in Broward County, those investigations can take several years. But in Hallandale Beach, the city paid a $150,000 wrongful death settlement in October, 2014 to the family of an unarmed man who was shot and killed by a police officer, which effectively closed the civil investigation and made the city's records available to the public, allowing for insight into a case that is still “under investigation” more than three years after the fatal shooting.
On January 8, 2012, Officer Edward McGovern shot and killed 34-year-old Gregory Ehlers, who was fleeing police after shoplifting a few items from a Best Buy in Aventura. As New Times previously reported, Aventura police chased Ehlers up to the city/county line and then made a call to Hallandale Beach police informing them that Ehlers as unarmed. Nonetheless, McGovern ended up shooting Ehlers, who was hiding on top of a roof. The cop says he did so because he thought Ehlers was reaching for a gun and could have shot him or his partner, who was on the other side of the house – but the only objects found on Ehlers was his cell phone and the items he stole from Best Buy. After the shooting, city attorney Lynn Whitfield's planned defense in the civil case was to argue that the shooting was justified because Ehlers could have obtained a gun while he was fleeing police – such as finding a firearm in the bushes, for example.
In this video, McGovern gives a deposition to attorney David Heffernan, who represents the Ehlers family, and gives his version of events just before the shooting.
McGovern says he fired because he feared for Officer Mirabal's life, as well as his own. And when he saw Ehlers peer over the side of the roof, that cold have indicated that Ehlers, if he had a gun, was about to start firing.
“At that point, he actually physically leans out over the edge and looks over the side," says McGovern.
“When he leans over, do you look to see where Officer Maribal is?”
“No, but I have general idea – I know this is where he is," McGovern says. He continues: "At that point, once he's looking over the side, now my concern is going higher because now he has stopped listening to me, he has stopped complying with my directions, and now he's looking to see where this other officer is."
"Do you know if he could see Officer Maribal was from where he was standing?" Heffernan asks.
"I don't know if he could. From where he was and from what he was doing, it was obvious to me he was trying to look over the side of the building," answers McGovern.
"My question is simple enough, though. Do you know whether he could see Officer Maribal?"
“I would have to get up on the roof to be able to tell you."
"At any time, from when you approach him on the roof, when you see the object initially, when he puts it on the roof, and while he's standing there, are you in fear for your life in any way, shape, or form?" Heffernan asks McGovern.
Heffernan: "Why are you in fear for your life?"
McGovern: "Because if he comes up with a gun and starts shooting at me, I could get shot," explains McGovern.
Heffernan: "OK. You have him with your gun trained on him and he has no weapon that you're aware of in his hands at this point?"
McGovern: "Correct. My belief at this time is there's a weapon between his feet."
Heffernan: "And if you were in fear for your life, very easily, going to the left, you could have had the building as protection, correct?"
McGovern: “If I needed to, I believe I could have moved to [the left] for cover, yes.
Heffernan: "In other words, you could have used building 412 for cover between you and Mr. Ehlers on the roof?
McGovern: "Correct. But I have the other issue of, if he's armed, and I now move to another position, will I still have the same view I have? There's other factors to take into place. If he came up and started firing a gun at me and I start engaging him back firing, then maybe at some point I would have used that cover, but it all depends on how the situation plays out.
Heffernan: "OK, so describe for me now how he reaches down?"
McGovern: “From his position, he reaches down like this."
McGovern bends his knees about halfway and puts his arms straight downwards, similar to the position of a quarterback with bad knees taking a snap.
“And I'm saying 'Don't reach. Don't reach," he says.
“At what point was he at when you shot him?” asks Heffernan.
“He was, his arms were down and from what I could see, he was going down to where I thought the gun was sitting.”
“OK, but as far as you bent, just so we have some perspective, bend as far as he bent when you shot him.”
McGovern again gets into a weak-kneed quarterback snap position.
The second part of the deposition goes over the details after the shooting, including what McGovern told fellow officers in the immediate aftermath. The exchange between McGovern and Heffernan gets testy at times, with McGovern saying he largely didn't remember who he talked to or what he said, blaming the stress of the incident that just took place.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Although the shooting is still under investigation by the state attorney, Hallandale Beach police closed their investigation and McGovern has since been promoted to sergeant.
Ron Ishoy, spokesperson for the Broward state attorney's office, told New Times previously that the case is "at the top of the list" of police shooting investigations to be concluded.
As for the $150,000 wrongful death settlement, Hallandale Beach mayor Joy Cooper said in an email: "I believe the settlement was the right decision."