A wide-open door at the Big Country Chateau led off-duty police officer Donna Lesher to Eugene Ellison.
Lesher was moonlighting, patrolling the crime-ridden apartment complex on foot with a partner, another off-duty female officer. Lesher saw the door on the second-floor of a spare, low-slung building. The officers were immediately suspicious. Who would leave their door open on a cold December evening?
The white officers climbed the stairs and saw Ellison, a 67-year-old black man, sitting on his couch inside. In front of him was a coffee table, its glass top broken.
Standing outside the apartment, they asked Ellison whether he was OK. Ellison said he was fine. The officers were not satisfied. Something still seemed odd to them. His shirt was unbuttoned, and he appeared to be shivering. They later said they thought that he might need help or that maybe a crime had been committed and someone else was in the apartment.