Ex-Freeport cop not guilty in shooting that injured sleeping neighbor

Matthew Gregory McInnis, now 27, was found not guilty of deadly conduct in the 2016 accidental shooting of his sleeping neighbor. Photo: Courtesy of Clute Police Department

A Brazoria County jury on Tuesday acquitted a former police officer for accidentally shooting his sleeping neighbor through their shared apartment wall.

Following the verdict – which the six-member jury reached after less than one hour – Reggie Rossow Jr. walked up to former Freeport police officer Matthew McInnis and shook hands with the man whose bullet caused severe injuries, including the removal of Rossow’s spleen.

“It was just some closure, it was the first time I’ve ever seen him, face-to-face,” said Rossow, 37. “That’s just the way I was raised.”

McInnis, who was a rookie cop when he fired his duty weapon while in bed, said the handshake with the injured man  “meant a lot. Hopefully we can rebuild, hopefully we can have some kind of relationship. This has been two years in the making, and there are a lot of emotions built up.”

The circumstances of the shooting – Rossow was asleep, in his bed at home, doing nothing illegal at all – are unlike those involved in any other officer-involved shooting in Texas, according to an analysis of reports that are now required for all officer-involved shootings under a 2015 state law.

An analysis of those reports shows that Texas officers shot 354 individuals in the two years from Sept. 2015 until October 2017. Of the 62 individuals who were unarmed, 23 people – or 37 percent of all the unarmed individuals shot – were black, and another 23 people were white. Another 16 individuals were Hispanic or Latino.

The trial was just as bizarre and unusual as the shooting, which McInnis repeatedly told investigators happened as his alarm awoke him for work at 4 a.m. on Jan. 30, 2016. Then 25, McInnis had just started his adult life – he was fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a peace officer, and had just moved into his own apartment with a roommate, also a police officer.

Rossow, who is black, lived in the adjacent apartment with his wife and son, Noah. While Noah often sleeps in bed with his father, Rossow was alone in his bed when he was shot. He awoke to a “pop,” he said, then felt blood on his back and woke up his wife, asking her to call 9-1-1.

Reginald Rossow Jr. lifts his shirt to show his scars in his apartment Tuesday, June 13, 2017 in Clute. Rossow was shot through his apartment wall while he was sleeping by an off duty police officer who was living in the apartment next to his. Photo: Michael Ciaglo, Houston Chronicle

Meanwhile in the apartment next door, McInnis searched for the empty shell casing – which was in his sheets – and traced the bullet’s path through his headboard and two walls. Then, he knocked on his neighbor’s door, and applied pressure to Rossow’s back until paramedics arrived.

“I’m not from here, I’ve never been on my own before,” McInnis said when asked about sleeping with a loaded gun in the moments after the shooting. A body-worn camera recorded the exchange.

“I opened my eyes and heard it go off, heard the discharge,” the former officer said. “That’s what woke me up, and I guess I had my hand on the gun or finger on the trigger and it went off.”

It took months for Rossow to recover physically, and the loss of his spleen requires him to get annual vaccinations. While he said he’s  feeling better, he continues to struggle financially and is still in the process of getting compensation from the state for crime victims.

McInnis resigned from the department in February of 2016. The Clute Police Department investigated the shooting and recommended no charges. But the case also went before a grand jury, which in June returned an indictment stating that McInnis was reckless in shooting his firearm through the wall.

“Ultimately, charges were brought,” prosecutor David Smith said during opening statements. “We’re not letting an officer who discharged his firearm get away with it. We’re asking that he be held accountable for his actions.”

After hearing McInnis’ explanation of what happened, Rossow was certain that the all-white jury would find the former officer guilty.

“But I guess those six people just don’t know me, aren’t like me, and don’t come from where I come from,” Rossow said.

The jury was picked at the end of October, but two days in, a juror was hospitalized and there were no alternates. Then, a death in Judge Marc Holder’s family and planned vacations pushed the trial’s resumption to Monday.

Things got even stranger during the three-and-a-half-weeklong pause, when the prosecution amended its witness list to include Brazoria County District Attorney Jeri Yenne, First Assistant District Attorney Mary Aldous, and Vicki Tupa, the court reporter from McInnis’ grand jury proceeding.

The prosecution was attempting to enter McInnis’s testimony, but Tupa could not identify the former officer in court. In brief testimony, Yenne confirmed that McInnis went before the grand jury, was not forced to speak, and was placed under oath. Yenne said it was “not common” for her to take the stand, and could only recall one other case in which she did so.

Tupa’s comments were truncated, and while she was set to read from McInnis’ statements to the upa grand jury – proceedings that are secretive – the judge did not allow her to do so.

“I think it’s safer to just stop it here,” Holder said.

Smith declined to comment after the verdict Tuesday, directing a reporter to Yenne, who had left the courthouse for the day and did not call a reporter back.

The actual trial only lasted four days, during which defense attorney Charles Adams raised more than 250 objections, living up to a statement he made during jury selection that he would “zealously represent my client.” While McInnis was expected to testify, he chose not to on Tuesday, Adams said.

After the jury verdict, McInnis said he was looking forward to spending time with his family. “I’m just thankful,” he said, as his eyes filled with tears.

It’s rare for an officer to be punished after shooting someone, even more so while the officer is off-duty, but several have been recently. Former Farmers Branch officer Ken Johnson was indicted last year in the fatal shooting of a suspected burglar, whom Johnson chased and then shot while off-duty. Awaiting trial for murder and four counts of aggravated assault by a public servant is former Balch Springs policeman Roy Oliver, accused of shooting into a car full of teenagers, killing 15-year-old Jordan Edwards.

This week, a fired Dallas police officer received two-years probated sentence for attempted deadly conduct in the shooting of a mentally ill man in 2013. Cardan Spencer, 34, was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant but pleaded guilty to a reduced charge. Earlier this year, former Garland officer Patrick Tuter was placed on probation for nine months for fatally shooting an unarmed man five years ago. He, too, pleaded guilty to a lesser charge but was initially charged with a felony.

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