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Bucks County Courier Times

What Bucks County DA says led Falls police to shoot a driver, and why he's now charged

By Jo Ciavaglia, Bucks County Courier Times,

2023-09-25
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A 21-year-old Middletown man who was shot multiple times by police after allegedly pointing a toy gun at two officers earlier this year is facing felony charges stemming from the incident.

Benjamin Charles Fell was arraigned Sept. 20 on two counts of felony aggravated assault and felony fleeing or attempting to elude an officer and five related misdemeanors in the March police pursuit that ended with Fell being shot and seriously injured.

Fell is free on $250,000 unsecured bail. His condition was not immediately known. His attorney, David Zellis, did not return email messages sent on Thursday and Friday.

Little info on police-involved shootingFalls, Bucks County DA release little information on officer-involved shooting

In May, the Bucks County District Attorney’s Office declared the two Falls police officers involved in the March 28 shooting were justified in their actions.

Following the incident police and the district attorney’s office released few details about the circumstances leading up to the shooting. But an April 24 shooting determination letter laid out an extensive timeline of the events and subsequent Bucks County Detectives investigation.

This news organization obtained a copy of the letter, written by First Deputy District Attorney Jennifer Schorn, through a Right to Know request. The names of the officers involved in the shooting were redacted, as is county practice when a shooting is deemed justified.

A routine traffic stop in Falls for alleged speeding gone wrong

According to the letter, a Falls police officer was on patrol on Lincoln Highway at Lincoln Circle when he saw a 2007 Ford Focus speeding around midnight on March 28.

The police car did a U-turn and started following the Focus. As the officer closed in, the driver, later identified as Fell, changed lanes without signaling around the 380 block of Lincoln Highway. He then started driving on the road shoulder.

At this point the officer did not have any emergency equipment activated on his marked police cruiser, according to the letter.

Fell braked and continued to ride along the shoulder as if he was going to pull over. The officer positioned his vehicle on the shoulder, activated the emergency lights, and called a car stop over Bucks County 911 radio.

But instead of pulling over, Fell allegedly steered back onto the road and accelerated. The officer started a short pursuit with lights and emergency siren activated.

A mobile vehicle camera on the police car registered a speed of more than 75 mph, nearly twice the posted speed limit, the letter said.

Fell slowed down and stopped in the 600 block of Lincoln Highway where it intersects with Oak Lane Avenue. After stopping, Fell started to open his car door and the officer ordered him to stay in the car.

But Fell allegedly immediately opened the car door wider and put his foot on the ground. The officer could see Fell’s head look out from the vehicle back toward him, the letter said.

The officer ordered Fell three times to put his hands up, according to authorities. After the third time, Fell raised his hands slightly out of the driver’s side door. The officer immediately noticed what appeared to be a gun in his right hand, according to the letter.

The officer notified police radio that Fell had “some kind of gun” in his hand and ordered him to drop it.

More on the last Falls police shootingBucks County DA rules Falls police-involved shooting justified. Few details of shooting released

Two shots fired, followed by a 4-mile police chase, and second shooting

The following comes from the letter obtained by the RTK:

After a second order to drop the gun, Fell got out of his car and immediately faced the officer with his hands clasped together in a shooting stance and pointed what appeared to be a gun toward the officer.

The officer fired two rounds from his service weapon and ran for cover behind his police vehicle.

Fell knelt on the ground facing the patrol vehicle, then got up, apparently uninjured. He got back into his Focus with the apparent gun in his gun and fled the area.

Another Falls police vehicle arrived to assist and the officers began what became a 4-mile pursuit from Lincoln Highway to New Ford Mills Road.

At one point on south Tyburn Road, one officer alleged that the vehicles were traveling in excess of 100 mph, according to a probable cause affidavit in the case.

In the area of New Ford Mill Road one of the officers performed a precision immobilization technique. While the officer was getting into position, Fell appeared to intentionally steer to the left crossing the double-yellow lane divider and into the opposing traffic lane, the letter said. Fell then braked, which caused a series of collisions and damage to both vehicles.

Fell stopped the car near the intersection with Steel Road West. Seconds after stopping, Fell opened the driver’s side door, got out and faced the officer with his hands clasped together pointing what appeared to be a gun at the officer.

The officer fired multiple rounds that struck Fell in the face, neck, foot and abdomen, the letter said.

While Fell was on the ground, the officers kicked what appeared to be a gun away from him, and began emergency medical treatment on him until paramedics arrived and took Fell to the hospital.

How often do police shootings happenA look at Bucks County police involved shootings since 2009

"I'm so stupid." Bucks County investigation reveals suspect's gun was a toy

In the subsequent county investigation it was learned that Fell was brandishing a Glock 19 Generation 3 replica CO2 airgun, which is widely available in retail stores and online, according to the letter.

The model does not possess an orange safety tip designed to alert people it is not a lethal firearm.

“The lack of this safety feature makes the weapon appear to be a real firearm rather than a replica,” Schorn wrote in the letter.

Investigators were also told that after Fell regained consciousness and he was able to speak he told medical staff at the hospital he was suicidal.

“All I wanted to do was die, and now all I want is water… I’m so stupid.”

Bucks County DA determines Falls shooting was justified

To make the justified shooting determination, Schorn wrote that she reviewed the county investigation, interviewed the involved officers, reviewed their personnel files, certifications and the department and Bucks County Chief use of force policies and best practices, and photos, audio and video recordings.

She concluded based on the evidence that the officers were “reasonable” in their individual beliefs that their lives were in clear and present danger at the time they fired their weapons and the shooting was justified.

Fell’s failure to follow officer commands to drop what appeared to be a gun “intentionally escalated his situation into a deadly one,” she added.

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