STILLWATER — A police officer who fatally shot a person of interest in a January homicide has been cleared of wrongdoing.
Stillwater Police Detective Cody Manuel was cleared in the shooting of 42-year-old Ralph Willis III as Willis ran from police, Capt. Kyle Gibbs announced in a media release Friday.
The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation conducted a probe of the shooting and presented its findings to Payne County District Attorney Laura Thomas on Feb. 5.
“After review of the case, the district attorney determined the use of deadly force in this incident was justified, appropriate and necessary,” Gibbs said.
Willis was a suspect in a suspicious apartment fire in the 100 block of West Scott Street on the morning of Jan. 29 and was wanted for questioning in the homicide of William C. Marg, 64, whose body was found in that apartment, Gibbs said.
The investigation ultimately led to a foot pursuit that proceeded into the backyard of a residence in the 600 block of East Maple Street, where Willis jumped a fence and then stopped to confront detectives, Gibbs said.
“He refused to comply with orders to show his hands and get on the ground,” Gibbs said in a statement. “He was shouting obscenities at the officers and screaming at them to kill him. Detective Manuel provided cover as the other two detectives holstered their weapons and began climbing over the fence to contact Willis.”
Gibbs said Willis then made movements and statements that led officers to think he was drawing a weapon from his waistband.
Manuel “reasonably believed” Willis’ actions would harm officers or neighborhood residents, so he fired one shot, striking Willis in the chest, Gibbs said.
Willis was pronounced dead at the scene.
Interviews with his wife, Rachel Marie Willis, “revealed that Ralph told her he would not go back to prison and that he would make the police kill him if necessary,” Gibbs said.
Early in the investigation, police learned that Willis and his wife lived in the apartment building where the fire occurred and Marg’s body was found.
Rachel Willis was charged Feb. 9 with two counts of accessory to a felony (first-degree arson and first-degree murder).
She is in the Payne County Jail in lieu of $250,000 bail, Gibbs said.