District Attorney finds Topeka police officers ‘justified’ in September use of deadly force

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TOPEKA (KSNT) – Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay announced Wednesday that his office has completed the review for investigations into the shooting deaths of Jennifer Morris and Jesse Buck Lees which occurred in September of 2021.

According to a recent release from the DA’s office, law enforcement in Topeka responded to a call about a dead body on September 8, 2021, at 3444 SW Briarwood. Officers arrived at the scene and found the body of Jennifer A. Morris in a bathroom.

The District Attorney’s review said witnesses at the scene told officers Morris had been in an argument and physical altercation with her boyfriend, who was later identified as Jesse Buck lees. The review also said witnesses heard a single gunshot from inside the house, saw Lees holding a single shell casing, and were told by Lees that he had a mess to clean up.

A later autopsy revealed that Morris died of a single gunshot wound to the head. She also had scrape marks on her feet and ankles consistent with witness statements that she had been drug into the house.

A day later, the DA’s report said police found Lees driving in central Topeka, at which point they tried to pull him over. He was able to escape custody during the traffic stop. Then the next day, law enforcement again located Lees driving as he pulled into the Kwik Shop at 17th and Topeka.

Lees attempted to elude officers again and a lengthy pursuit ensued. It ended at 8th and Polk when Lees collided with another vehicle in the intersection, according to the DA. He then exited his car and began running on foot.

The report said Lees pulled out a handgun from his waistband as officers took chase on foot. Lees stopped during the pursuit and turned towards the officers, raising the firearm and pointing it in the direction of officers. Three officers discharged their handguns at Lees who was struck multiple times and then dropped his firearm and fell to the ground.

Officers attempted to save Lees but he died as a result of his injuries. A later investigation by the Kansas Bureau of Investigation revealed that Lees had been under the influence of tramadol and methamphetamine at the time of his death. Kagay announced the results of both investigations on Wednesday, Dec. 22. No criminal charges would be filed in regards to the death of Jennifer Morris. The investigation revealed overwhelming evidence that Lees committed the homicide and that he acted alone.

The investigation was delayed due to the need for ballistics testing between the two cases. The final analysis report confirmed that the firearm Lees was carrying with him at the time of his death was the same firearm he used to kill Morris on Sept. 8.

In regards to the investigation into the death of Lees, Kagay said that his responsibility is to determine if the actions of the law enforcement officers was reasonable. As per Kansas law, an officer is justified in the use of deadly force only when the officer reasonably believes that such deadly force is necessary to prevent death or bodily harm to such officer or another. In this investigation, law enforcement had received reports that Lees shot and killed Morris after the two began arguing. Lees then made statements that he would not go back to prison and that he was ready for a shootout with law enforcement.

The day before his death, Lees evaded capture by fleeing from law enforcement and he attempted to do so a a second time before the shooting. The threat level escalated when Lees was seen pulling a firearm from his waistband as officers pursued him on foot.

The threat level escalated again when Lees turned towards law enforcement and raised the firearm in their direction. Based on these facts, Kagay said the officers were justified in the use of deadly force and they will not be subject to criminal prosecution.

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