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TANGIPAHOA PARISH, LA (WAFB) -
The 9News I-team has spent the past several months combing through never before seen and some recently released interrogation tapes and depositions. They're all in a case involving a Tangipahoa Sheriff's deputy with a deadly shooting of an unarmed teenager.
"It's fixing to get out of hand when they find out what happened. Give us some cars up here," said Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff's Sgt. Schirra Finn.
It was a desperate call for back-up after a deputy shot and killed an unarmed 18 year old man.
It all unfolded in the early morning hours of Aug. 11, 2012. As Club 81 in Tangipahoa was shutting down, fights broke out. Security called for back-up and deputies Koven Banks and William Phebus were among the first on scene. They were told a man had a gun. When deputies asked for him to show his hands, he took off running.
According to witnesses, three deputies chased the man down West Railroad Avenue, also known as Hwy 51. He turned down Jackson Street and fell. Two of the deputies got on top of him. As they were trying to handcuff him, Cjavar "Dee Jay" Galmon ran up from in between three cars.
911 DISPATCH CALL: "The police officer just shot the man. He is down, just got shot in the chest."
Galmon died in as little as three minutes just feet away from the stunned deputy who shot him.
"I just stood there in disbelief," said Deputy Phebus during his questioning with investigators two days after the incident.
Deputy Phebus said he did not even realize what he did as Galmon began to approach him.
"It's stressful and I don't know what his intentions are...to do [to] us, this guy on the ground, or Deputy Banks or myself harm, and when I turned around, it just went off, and that's why I was like what the **** because I didn't tell my finger to pull the trigger," said Deputy Phebus.
Donna Grodner is representing Galmon's family.
"Dee Jay felt they were stopping the wrong person. He was walking up to offer assistance with his hands in the air saying you got the wrong one when he was shot at point blank range. In fact, when he fell, his hands were still above his head," said Grodner.
Sgt. Finn was part of the chase and just feet away when Deputy Phebus fired. He said it all happened so quickly: a shouted command and a gunshot.
"I hear, 'Get back! BOOM.' It's more like, 'Get back,' as it's like, 'Get back! Pow'," said Sgt. Finn.
"So simultaneously, I mean quick?" asked the investigator.
"Get back! Pow. I'm like and you see the puff and he looks at me and I look at him and I'm like what the **** just happened," said Sgt. Finn.
'I don't remember pulling my trigger. I didn't consciously pull my trigger," said Deputy Phebus.
Another key aspect of the investigation centers on deputies Phebus and Banks saying they heard one specific word just before the shooting.
"We heard "gun" and Deputy Phebus pulled his weapon, and it went off," said Deputy Banks.
But Sgt. Finn said otherwise.
"At any time, did you hear the word ‘gun'?" Where is the gun? Anything like that? Any time did you hear them?" asked the investigator.
"From those guys, no," said Sgt. Finn.
Investigators also zeroed in on a critical part of Phebus' duty gun.
"The weapon you had, was it modified in any way?" asked the investigator.
"It has a duty carry trigger in it. It's after market components that are installed by the dept. Armor," said Deputy Phebus.
Deputy Phebus' work gun is a Glock 40 caliber, model 35, generation 4.
The I-team went to Mark Smith of Precision Firearms. Smith is a Glock certified armorer. The I-team asked Smith what impact the aftermarket trigger could have.
"This distance from initiating of rear-ward motion to right here can be significantly reduced by the usage of aftermarket products to where you take this away completely and basically you just pull the trigger and there is no pre-travel to it at all," said Smith.
What does that mean?
"Makes it just easier to shoot the weapon," said Smith.
The modification to Phebus' work-issued weapon was not only approved by the Tangipahoa Sheriff's Dept.
"(Was it) installed by your dept?" asked an investigator.
"Yes sir. My dept. armor installed it in my duty gun," said Deputy Phebus.
Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff Daniel Edwards declined an interview with the I-team, but under oath in a civil deposition with the Galmon family's attorney:
Grodner: "Are you aware that there was a trigger alteration on the Phebus weapon?"
Sheriff Edwards: "That's my understanding."
Grodner: "Did he have approval for that?"
Sheriff Edwards: "It's my -- no, he didn't have approval from me, so I would say that he did not have approval."
Grodner: "Do you know whether anyone -- did you authorize anyone to approve the trigger alteration that he had in his weapon?"
Sheriff Edwards: "I did not."
Under oath, Phebus said the man who put the trigger in his gun, just four months before the shooting, is one of the department's top firearms experts.
One of the policies under which Phebus and the firearm instructor operate is: "No trigger, hammer or sighting installations, other than original manufacturer offered options, are permitted."
In the sheriff's deposition with Grodner:
Grodner: "If there was an altered trigger in the Phebus weapon, wouldn't that be a violation of this very policy we just read?"
Sheriff Edwards: "It would."
Grodner: "And wouldn't it be up to the individuals who were doing the certification that you told me on a yearly basis to be inspecting that weapon for these very types of violations of policy?"
Sheriff Edwards: "Well, I think ideally it would be nice for someone to catch an alteration like that, yes"
Grodner: "And ultimately, it's your responsibility to make sure these policies are enforced, correct?"
Sheriff Edwards: "Absolutely."
Deputy Phebus is no novice with firearms. Investigators called Phebus "a highly trained officer" with several completed classes, some at instructor level, and certifications in the use of his specific weapon.
Some of those classes and certifications include, but not limited to:
Safe and practical use of a handgun
Strategies of low light engagements (instructor course)
Threat analysis tactical pistol
In classes like these and others, experts typically teach that you're supposed to keep your index finger off the trigger until you're ready to fire.
So what happened?
"Is there any reason why (your finger) was inside the trigger guard?" asked an investigator.
"Sir, I don't know. I can't answer that question. That's a, I can't answer that question," said Deputy Phebus.
State Police investigated the shooting and turned over their findings to the Tangipahoa Parish District Attorney Scott Perriloux, who presented the case to a Grand Jury. The Grand Jury decided not to indict Deputy Phebus. For now, Phebus is back on the force, but off the streets and on office duty.
Perriloux did not return our call for an interview and Sheriff Edwards refused an interview.