An RTA bus driver’s claim that three black teenagers shot and stabbed him is not supported by the evidence and reconstruction of the incident by a police investigation.
Dayton Police Chief Richard Biehl said during a press conference Wednesday that key elements of driver Rickey Wagoner’s story - in particular the sequence of events and ballistics tests on the gun said to be used in the shooting - could not have happened as described.
In a release posted on the Dayton Regional Transportation Authority’s website at the same time the police news conference was underway, RTA Executive Director Mark Donaghy said that Wagoner has been accused as part of the employee disciplinary process with violations of RTA’s Employee Standards of Performance. He remains on paid administrative leave.
“After conducting a comprehensive investigation that has spanned nearly four months, the police department has concluded Mr. Wagoner fabricated his statements,” Donaghy said, thanking police for their extensive probe. “All of us at RTA are angry at the thought that an employee would allegedly mislead the police, the public and us and use ugly racial stereotypes in doing so.”
Asked about a potential motive for reporting the incident, Biehl said Wagoner, 49, appeared to be in some financial distress. Montgomery County Auditor’s Office records show Wagoner owes the county in excess of $100,000 for property taxes on a dozen homes he owns in addition to his residence.
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Biehl said that the police investigation was submitted to the city of Dayton’s Law Department, but the city prosecutor declined to charge Wagoner with a crime, which potentially included making a false police report. The Law Department could not be reached for comment late Wednesday afternoon.
The RTA said previously that the 10-year veteran bus driver had an excellent work record. In the RTA disciplinary process, Wagoner will receive an opportunity to present evidence in support of his position, as would any RTA employee, Donaghy said.
At his home Wednesday, Wagoner declined to comment. “Do what you need to do,” Wagoner said. “No comment.”
In the Feb. 24 incident, Wagoner told police he was shot and stabbed in the 1900 block of Lakeview Avenue, while standing outside of his electric-powered trolley bus investigating why it lost power.
A video and audio recording of the incident by a device aboard the bus showed Wagoner had only 22 seconds to disarm two of the assailants, stab one of them with his own pen knife, fire at them with the bullets remaining in the handgun he said he had wrestled away from one of men, and travel 200 to 300 feet to get back on his bus.
He then radioed in to the dispatcher, but did not appear to be out of breath or winded, Biehl said, or having just been involved in a life-or-death struggle.
Additionally, Wagoner said a religious book stopped two of the bullets fired at him. Two bullets were found lodged in the book titled, “The Message,” which is a modern translation of the Bible that was inside Wagoner’s shirt pocket. Biehl said it’s “not credible” that bullets were fired into the book without penetrating the torso. The only DNA identified at the scene - blood droplets - were traced to Wagoner, the police chief said.
Police ballistics tests showed that bullets fired from the handgun - a 25-caliber Raven model semiautomatic- at the same distance as had been fired at Wagoner’s book penetrated the book and traveled 15 inches through a gel designed to simulate the effect of bullets on a human body. Wagoner’s shirt after the incident had bullet holes in the front, but not the back.
The handgun’s last sale was traced to a local gun show. Investigators found the gun, which had its serial number filed down, had been last sold in the past two years to a white male, although they have not been able to identify him.
Biehl also said Wagoner’s injuries were not consistent with defensive wounds, but were consistent with hesitation wounds. Alongside a deeper wound were shallower, smaller cuts. The knife Wagoner said he used to stab one assailant was never recovered for the police investigation.
In his story, Wagoner told officers he heard one of the suspects tell another to kill him “if you want to be all the way in the club” and that they were there to “shoot a polar bear” — street lingo for a white person.
Wagoner told investigators he believed the shooting might have been a gang initiation. Three shots were fired — one struck him in the right leg and two were fired into his chest, he told investigators. Wagoner wrestled the gun away from the shooter, but he was stabbed by another in the left arm, he said.
Wagoner was off the bus for a total of seven minutes and 20 seconds, and surveillance cameras did not capture any audio or video for the first five minutes. Biehl said the gunshots recorded were in reverse order of what one would expect in the situation that Wagoner described. Wagoner described two shots to the chest and then a third shot to his leg.
Wagoner submitted to one interview with police, which was also attended by the FBI as part of their investigation into the incident as a hate crime. Wagoner declined to be interviewed while monitored by a polygraph, Biehl said. He also declined any additional interviews and hired an attorney, Biehl said. Police haven’t yet been informed of the FBI’s conclusion of its investigation.
Biehl said police have worked with the RTA to determine what could have caused the bus to lose power suddenly, and the reason could not be explained or recreated aside from turning off a master switch.
“We do not have three armed male offenders stalking members of the community and assaulting them,” Biehl said. “The assault as reported is not accurate.”