MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — On a weekday afternoon last November, Monongalia County Sheriff’s Deputies forced their way into a Charles Avenue home looking for two robbery suspects they considered dangerous.
Within seconds, David Romanoski, 48, was dead. The grandson of former WVU track coach and Sports Hall of Fame member Stan Romanoski was shot three times by a deputy.
However, Romanoski was not one of the men deputies were seeking.
For months investigators have been piecing together what happened, and Romanoski’s fiancée, Karen Tackett, has struggled to understand why her long-time companion was killed and whether the deputies will be held responsible.
“I want them to be accountable for their actions,” Tackett said. “I think they need to be fired.”
Interviews with Tackett, 49, and investigators revealed conflicting accounts, and it ultimately may rest with a Monongalia County grand jury to determine whether sheriff’s deputies acted appropriately or were overzealous.
The events of Romanoski’s last day began to unfold overnight when Isaac Barker and Justin Knisell allegedly robbed three men, sending two of the victims to the hospital. Deputies were informed Knisell lived at 1043 Charles Ave.
Authorities were familiar with both suspects—each had been convicted of domestic battery and Barker had convictions of unlawful assault and malicious assault. A source also told the sheriff’s department that a woman and her baby lived at the Charles Avenue address.
Deputies obtained an arrest warrant for Knisell and a search warrant for the home. At midafternoon, 10 deputies descended on the house with a plain-clothes officer knocking on the door.
When Tackett answered, the officer said he was there to fix the furnace. Deputies took that precaution based on the report of an infant being in the house.
Tackett said she planned to let the man in, but first pushed the door closed to secure her pit bull, Sasy.
At this point, the stories begin to diverge.
Tackett claims deputies rushed in without identifying themselves, forcing her and two other people in the house—an unidentified woman and her 17-year-old son—to the floor. She claims lawmen rushed to the bedroom where Romanoski was sleeping and opened fire. (There was no infant present. Another unidentified woman and her baby had stayed at the home previously.)
“All you could hear was a lot of screaming,” Tackett said. “They did not identify themselves at all. They were all dressed in black.”
A friend had left a shotgun at the house, which Tackett said Romanoski kept behind the bedroom door. She said he had no time to retrieve it as officers poured in.
However, deputies claimed they did identify themselves, and that all were in uniform except the man who knocked on the door. That was corroborated by another witness in the home, who recalled deputies announcing they were looking for someone named Justin.
Neither Knisell nor Barker was there at the time. Knisell had stopped by the house several hours earlier, after allegedly committing the assault and robbery. Tackett described Knisell as a frequent visitor, but said he did not live there.
Tackett said Romanoski was a soft touch, frequently offering struggling people a meal and a place to stay.
“Dave has a bad habit of letting people come around,” she told police. “He lets people come and go. … Justin was staying with us here and there.”
Tackett told police she kept to herself when Knisell was around, though she heard him and Romanoski recently had an argument, after which the house was “on lockdown.”
“I’m trying to save your life here,” Tackett recalled Romanoski telling her.
Morgantown Police Detective L.E. Hasley, who is investigating the shooting, said Romanoski was armed as deputies entered the bedroom and one officer commanded him to “Put the gun down.”
Romanoski was hit by three shots, all fired by the same officer with a service revolver. The autopsy report shows the fatal wound came from a bullet that struck the victim in the upper right side of his chest near his neck. Police theorize a second bullet struck the same area, but that could not be confirmed in the autopsy.
The third bullet struck Romanoski’s left arm, between the wrist and elbow. Hasley said the wound was consistent with someone “holding the fore-end of a shotgun.” Romanoski’s gun was loaded, but he did not fire a shot.
Tackett recalled more shots were fired, perhaps as many as seven or eight. Hasley said police re-searched the bedroom and found no evidence of additional shots.
The deputy who fired at Romanoski has not been identified publicly. The sheriff’s department says he was placed on administrative leave and returned to duty a short time later.
“The internal review has determined that the deputy involved in the shooting … did not violate any departmental policy or procedure during this incident,” according to a release from the sheriff’s department.
Tackett contends deputies and emergency personnel were slow to administer medical assistant to Romanoski, but again there are conflicting accounts.
“I was on the porch for over an hour and the ambulance was down the road. The paramedics were just standing there. For over an hour he laid in there and was bleeding out.”
The emergency services response log refutes this. It shows the first report of shots fired came at 3:44 p.m., with an EMS unit reaching the scene 2 minutes later. A second unit was dispatched at 3:48 and arrived at 3:53. The log shows the ambulance carrying Romanoski arrived at the hospital at 4:05 p.m., where he died. Hasley said his report will show deputies began their own lifesaving efforts immediately after the shooting.
Investigators suggested Tackett may have been in shock and misjudged the time.
A lingering issue with the incident: Deputies were not wearing their new body cameras, video from which could have verified accounts by deputies and witnesses. The cameras were faulty, said department officials, and were being re-ordered.
Hasley said he’s close to concluding his investigation, and then it will be up to Monongalia County prosecuting attorney Marcia Ashdown whether to present the case to a grand jury. Ashdown has declined comment on her intentions because of the confidential nature of grand jury proceedings.
Meanwhile, Tackett has returned to Ohio to live with a family member while she continues seeking answers about Romanoski’s death. After all those years together, she said the two were finally planning to marry.
“I lost my old man,” Tackett said. “I feel like no one is paying for taking his life.”