On Feb. 10, Steven Reed poured the accelerant on the home of a girlfriend he had been stalking, according to a neighbor who called police. Gasoline sloshed the backdoor of the Hilltop home.
The neighbor worried Reed would set the home on fire.
Reed's girlfriend already had a protection order in place. He came back anyway.
Reed took off and ran to the roof of his home before officers arrived. He clutched what turned out to be a fake gun and said he would shoot officers if they approached. Columbus police Officer Nathan Schwind opened fire, killing him.
The scene on the Hilltop played out just hours after two Westerville police officers, Eric Joering and Anthony Morelli, were shot and killed when they responded to a 911 hang up call at a home known for domestic violence calls. All dispatchers had heard was a whimper before the line went dead.
Domestic calls, according to an analysis of line-of-duty deaths by the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, are some of the most dangerous for police officers. They made up 22 percent of the calls leading to an officer’s death when 91 deaths nationwide were examined between 2010 to 2014.
"It makes sense given the whole idea of domestic violence is about power and control," said Anne Murray, director of the domestic violence and stalking unit for the city attorney’s office in Columbus. "Law enforcement is interrupting that."
Each year, law enforcement officers answer thousands of domestic violence calls.
In Columbus last year, there were 17,259 domestic violence calls, 16,497 domestic dispute calls and 1,674 calls for officers to help someone in a domestic situation to get personal items. That’s more than 5 percent of the overall calls city officers answer.
The calls are volatile and unpredictable. That’s evidenced by other fatal officer shootings in recent years in central Ohio.
In May 2017, Marlina Medrano was shot and killed when her ex-boyfriend found her at work at a nursing home in Kirkersville. A nurse aide, Cindy Krantz, was also killed as well as Kirkersville Police Chief Steven DiSario, who responded to the call.
In April 2016, Columbus SWAT Officer Steven Smith was killed responding to a standoff with Lincoln Rutledge. Rutledge’s estranged wife said she had been assaulted by him and that he had threatened her with gun violence. When Smith was killed, officers were working to take Rutledge into custody based on charges that he set a fire at his wife’s home.
Officers often physically take the control away from an abuser, officers said.
Last weekend, police said Quentin Smith was willing to kill before letting go of that control.
After the Westerville shootings, Candace Smith spoke to dispatchers while hiding in the bushes in front of her home. Her husband had shot the officers, she said. Her one-year-old child was still inside with her husband.
Police had been out to the home before on other domestic calls, and in November Candace Smith had inquired about a protection order.
"[She] was living in a home where that person was capable of killing two police officers. What must that feel like?" Murray said.
It’s not uncommon for officers to repeatedly respond to calls of violence involving the same couple or at the same home.
A case analysis put out by Officer Memorial Fund found that in many of those fatal domestic cases, officers answered calls alone or did not wait on back-up before entering and assessing the situation. In some cases, officers were not equipped with accurate information before getting on scene.
"We train our officers that these situations should be handled by two officers minimum and to not become complacent with runs — even if you’ve been to that house multiple times," said Sgt. Chris Cheatham, who leads the Columbus defensive tactics unit.
It’s easy for officers to rationalize entering alone. Silently they often listen outside before a entering a home. A woman’s screams would make many officers charge through a locked door. Backup is just seconds out. She may not make it that long.
In Westerville last week, both officers Morelli and Joering responded, along with a third officer who was not involved in the shooting. The officers were wearing protective vests, as they're required to do. More officers followed after dispatchers were alerted that shots were fired.
The officers and Smith all fired shots. Smith, who suffered multiple gunshot wounds, remained hospitalized on Friday.
Anyone who is a victim of domestic abuse or has concerns about a loved one in an abusive environment can call the CHOICES Crisis hotline at 614-224-4663.
Beth Burger is a reporter with the Columbus Dispatch.