A police officer who shot a 61-year-old man during an hour-long standoff in Doylestown Township last month was justified in firing his weapon and will not be charged, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office said Monday.
In announcing the decision, prosecutors released 17 minutes of audio captured on body-worn cameras in which police can be heard trying to tell Thomas Edward Zeller to surrender peacefully after they responded to his townhouse for a report of a disturbance.
Zeller, according to the audio, told at least one officer that he had an AR-15 rifle in his house, and officers later can be heard telling him to drop what appeared to be a pistol in his hand as he walked outside.
Prosecutors said that Zeller twice exited his house on Carriage Drive with loaded firearms, and that an officer shot Zeller the second time after he pointed a handgun at the cops.
DA Matt Weintraub’s office declined to identify the officer who pulled the trigger.
Zeller was pronounced dead March 1 at Abington Hospital-Jefferson Health.
The encounter began about 8 p.m. Feb. 20, after someone called 911 and said Zeller had been smashing windows at his house, according to the DA’s Office. Officers began trying to negotiate with Zeller, including two who had worked at a grocery store with Zeller years earlier, prosecutors said.
On the audio recording, one officer — whom prosecutors did not identify — was heard repeatedly trying to convince Zeller that police want to help him. During the conversation, the two men addressed each other by first name; Zeller said he did not want to get handcuffed and taken to jail.
Zeller later could be heard cursing at police. A dispatcher also told police that Zeller had a gas mask, a bulletproof vest, and several guns in the house — information a dispatcher said had been shared by Zeller’s brother.
Before the officer shot Zeller, police could be heard repeatedly telling him to empty his hands and hold them up. After he was shot, prosecutors said, officers found Zeller with a revolver in his hand and a semiautomatic pistol in his pocket, both loaded. A medic arrived and took him to the hospital.
Prosecutors said the officer who fired the shot had removed his body-worn camera to put on tactical gear during the standoff. They also declined to release video footage from the episode, a decision they said was made “after consultation with Zeller’s immediate family.”
The officer who shot Zeller had been on administrative duty during the investigation but was cleared to return to active duty, the DA’s Office said.