By Jeff Lehr
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Two people were wounded in a police shooting Tuesday night when an argument over an alleged drug deal outside a Wal-Mart store in Joplin drew the attention of officers in an unmarked car.
The officer-involved shooting took place shortly before 11 p.m. on the north end of the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store at 1501 S. Range Line Road.
Lt. Brian Lewis of the Joplin Police Department said Officer David McGough shot two occupants of a small pickup truck that swerved at him after he identified himself as a police officer and ordered the driver to stop.
Justin C. Gage, 24, was shot in the right shoulder, and his passenger, Tyeler K. Whetstone, 22, was shot in the ring finger of her left hand as they fled the parking lot, Lewis said. Their vehicle was stopped by police moments later at Range Line Road and Ninth Street. They were taken to Freeman Hospital West and treated for their wounds before being taken to the Joplin City Jail.
“They weren’t life-threatening injuries,” Lewis said.
Gage was charged with first-degree assault on a law enforcement officer and remained in custody Wednesday on a $25,000 bond, with a cash-only amount of $5,000.
Whetstone was charged with possession of a controlled substance with intent to deliver after two bags of methamphetamine allegedly were found on her at the hospital. She was being held on a $10,000 bond. The two are from Joplin.
McGough and Cpl. Trevor Duncan were working an anti-theft detail in an unmarked car in the parking lot of the store when they observed a dispute break out between the two suspects and another man, Lewis said. When the officers approached the disputants, the other man ran, with Duncan in pursuit.
As McGough turned his attention to the occupants of the pickup truck, Gage allegedly drove straight at him after backing out of a parking space. Lewis said an initial report of the incident states that McGough, who escaped injury, had identified himself as a police officer and ordered the driver to stop before firing any shots.
A probable-cause affidavit filed Wednesday states that Whetstone admitted to an investigator that she was attempting to sell meth in the parking lot. The man who ran away was apprehended, but no charge has been filed against him.
Lewis said the initial report does not state how many shots McGough fired or what the trajectories of the shots were with respect to the truck and its occupants. Those matters are being investigated internally, he said.
The Joplin Police Department in recent years changed its policy with respect to police shootings, Lewis said. In the past, the department would ask the Missouri State Highway Patrol to conduct probes of officer-involved shootings. He said the department now conducts its own investigations. He said that has become common practice among police forces of Joplin’s size.
TWO JOPLIN POLICE OFFICERS, David McGough and Cpl. Trevor Duncan, have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of an internal investigation of a police shooting Tuesday night outside a Wal-Mart store.