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Last updated on Monday, April 2, 2012
(BLOOMINGTON) - 27-year-old Brandon Helms, of Gosport, was charged Friday with 13 felony charges ranging from attempted murder to intimidation after he threatened to kill Monroe county sheriff’s Deputy Beverly McKnight while he choked her with handcuffs and grabbed for her gun as he escaped from her custody Thursday afternoon.
Abby Tonsing of the Hearld-Times reports that Helms threatened to kill the families of the officers who had arrested him in connection with a domestic battery earlier in the day.
Helms reportedly threatened to kill the mother of his child and the child with a knife. The woman's thumb was cut in that struggle, and she was punched several times in the head, all in front of the child and Helms' father, according to a probable cause affidavit,
Police say Brandon Dale Helms threatened to kill sheriff's Deputy Beverly McKnight by shooting her in the head while he choked her with handcuffs and grabbed for her gun as he escaped from her custody Thursday afternoon.
Helms also threatened to kill the families of the officers who had arrested him in connection with a domestic battery earlier in the day, according to a probable-cause affidavit in the case. He reportedly threatened to kill the mother of his child and the child with a knife. The woman's thumb was cut in that struggle, and she was punched several times in the head, all in front of the child and Helms' own father.
The Gosport man faces 13 felony charges, ranging from attempted murder to intimidation, after police say he choked Mc-Knight from the back of the police vehicle she was driving, partially pulled her gun from its holster, fired a round, and ran from police. No one was injured when the gun fired.
A man mowing a yard who witnessed the struggle on West Seventh Street ran to the SUV to try to pull the suspect off the deputy.
Helms, 27, was apprehended less than a block away. His capture by police took minutes.
His bond was set Friday at half a million dollars, but he is being held without bond, because of other pending cases. Helms is no stranger to charges of resisting law enforcement. In 2002, he was arrested three times on the charge.
Helms faces the following felony charges filed Friday by the Monroe County Prosecutor's Office: attempted murder; escape; disarming a law enforcement officer; two counts of battery committed by means of a deadly weapon or resulting in serious bodily injury; domestic battery committed in the presence of a child younger than 16; strangulation; three counts of resisting law enforcement; and three counts of intimidation.
McKnight, 50, was treated and released from IU Health Bloomington Hospital about 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Chief Deputy Mike Pershing said. She was treated for abrasions to her neck; bruises to her left eye; cuts, bruises and abrasions to her right forearm; and other bruises to her hips and torso.
Detective Shawn Karr, who found Helms underneath a shed near the scene of the escape, suffered minor injuries when he restrained Helms. Karr received medical treatment at the county's health care clinic for abrasions and a bruise to his forehead.
Although it was initially reported that Helms suffered a broken leg, he later told police that he had a crack in his leg and had received previous medical treatment for that injury. Helms did not break his leg during the attempted escape.
"He was able to walk on his own," Bloomington police Lt. Bill Parker said Friday.
Dozens of marked and unmarked cars from Bloomington, Monroe County, Indiana University, Ellettsville, Department of Natural Resources and excise departments lined the area outside the rows of houses at Seventh and Adams streets after the incident.
Pershing maintains McKnight did not make any mistakes in the melee. "I can tell you he was properly restrained by my deputy. Did my deputy do anything wrong? No."
Once arrested after being accused of threats to kill a woman and child with a knife, Helms was handcuffed with his hands behind his back. He was placed in the back seat of a sheriff's department SUV and belted into the seat directly behind McKnight, according to Bloomington police Sgt. Steve Kellams.
The SUV, like most of the sheriff's fleet, does not have a protective cage.
The sheriff's department turned the investigation of the incident involving McKnight and Helms over to Bloomington police, because two county officers were injured and because the department did not want any speculation of impropriety during the investigation, Pershing said. "We have our integrity and credibility. Therefore I made a decision to utilize another agency to make sure that people couldn't bring that point up."
The original call
Lt. Troy Thomas and Deputy McKnight arrested Helms after being called to a report of a domestic disturbance at 4111 W. Vernal Pike about 1 p.m. Thursday.
A woman reported that during an argument, Helms began to punch her in the head and pull her hair. The woman said she hid from Helms in a laundry room, but he followed with a kitchen knife and threatened to kill her. The knife sliced into the woman's thumb while she tried to protect herself from the weapon, according to court documents.
Helms later reportedly punched and kicked a door, before grabbing a knife again. He threatened the woman and their child again before breaking his father's phone during a call to police, according to a probable-cause affidavit.
After his arrest, Helms was riding in the back of the sheriff's department SUV McKnight was driving. Thomas was in a separate police vehicle.
"She was transporting by herself, and that's normal for our agency," Pershing said.
McKnight's SUV stopped just east of the intersection of Seventh and Adams streets.
McKnight reported that was when a handcuffed Helms began choking her and she started to fight him off. She told police she momentarily lost consciousness while being choked.
Helms had been handcuffed with hands behind his back, but moved his arms to the front
in a technique police call "skinning the cat," Parker said, in which a person slips their hands underneath their buttocks and legs.
Helms told Bloomington police he slid his cuffed hands underneath himself and reached up, trying to go over the top of McKnight, Parker said.
McKnight reported Helms changed his focus to her weapon, as he threatened to kill her and her entire family, as well as Thomas and his family.
He threatened that he was going to shoot her in the head and her brains were going to run down the windshield, the affidavit reads: "How does it feel to know that this is the last thing that you're gonna see?"
Helms, who was in the back seat of the SUV for the duration of the struggle, admitted to firing McKnight's weapon, Parker said.
The deputy's gun was at her right hip. And Helms pulled her Glock 17 far enough from its holster to get a finger on the trigger and fire one shot. The bullet traveled through the holster, through the seat and lodged itself under the seat track area, Parker said.
McKnight made a radio call, knowing she needed help.
She also cried out to a man she saw mowing a lawn. Ernest Joseph Archer Jr. told police he thought he heard a gunshot and saw Helms attacking McKnight in the SUV. Archer ran to the SUV, opened its back door and reached in to help fight Helms off the deputy.
Archer said Helms slackened, and he turned to help the deputy, who was getting out of the vehicle herself.
"She unlocked it at some point because she was calling for help," Parker said. He could not give specifics on the safety lock mechanisms of McKnight's SUV.
It's not generally recommended for a concerned citizen to come to the rescue of law enforcement for a variety of safety reasons, Parker said. Still, he called Archer "a true hero" in this situation.
Bloomington police took Archer to the hospital to be checked for what appeared to be a bite mark on his hand, Parker said.
Helms ran from the back of the SUV about a half block west, where he pulled lattice away to crawl and hide under a shed. Detective Karr found Helms under the shed.
"Brandon Helms was underneath the structure lying somewhat in a fetal position on his right side and replied to Det. Karr that he would come out, take his gun, and kill him," the affidavit reads.
Karr started pulling at Helms by the legs, and a new struggle ensued. Helms grabbed and pulled Karr's tie.
Karr finally wrestled Helms to the ground, losing a few buttons of his shirt and banging his head in the process.
No protective cage
Most of the Monroe County Sheriff Office's fleet of police vehicles are not equipped with protective wire, plastic or Plexiglas cages between the front and back seats. Only one of the older cars has one.
When asked why not, Pershing responded: "The majority of our deputies do not like them. They are a hindrance. Therefore, they have not been a necessity. So we have not installed them, based on that factor."
He continued: "The officers don't like them. The majority of the departments in Indiana don't have them."
Should a county deputy request a cage be installed in his or her police car, it will be done, Pershing said.
The presence or absence of a barrier between the front and back seats of a police vehicle may not save an officer from injury, according to Pershing.
"Have officers been injured or killed in the past with a cage? Yes," he said. "Does it prevent someone from being injured? No."
The marked police cars of Bloomington's fleet have Plexiglas screens with a slot to slide open for communication between officers and suspects. The city's unmarked police cars don't have screens. But if a transport is required, an officer in an unmarked car will call for a marked car, Parker explained.
All of Indiana University's marked police cars, except for one, have metal cages that include a small window, Chief Keith Cash said.
Indiana State Police troopers have never had caged cars, except for those who have police dogs, Sgt. Curt Durnil said. State police policy dictates that if a trooper makes an arrest, that person gets cuffed, gets seatbelted to the passenger seat, and rides up front with the trooper.
"And we can see everything they do, and keep a close watch," Durnil said. "It really puts us at an advantage to put them up front."
Suspects can get rowdy, "so it's not a completely foolproof method," Durnil admitted.
State police policy also dictates that suspects never get transported behind the trooper that's driving, he said.
Capt. David Younce, who leads in-service training at the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, said he wishes all police vehicles had cages. Financial constraints, potential vehicle depreciation and visibility issues and personal annoyances, like the sound of rattling, are a few reasons why some forces choose not to use them, he said.
"It's almost just kind of an agency-by-agency decision depending on finances, depending on how much this is an issue," he said. "Personally, I wish they all had them, just for the protection of the officer."
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