Witnesses recount fight about stolen gun night before officer's fatal shooting

Hollis Daniels is escorted out of a Lubbock Courtroom on Monday after a jury was selected for his capital murder trial set to begin on Feb. 6.
Hollis Daniels is escorted out of a Lubbock Courtroom on Monday after a jury was selected for his capital murder trial set to begin on Feb. 6.

Leo Johns told jurors on Tuesday that the night before Hollis Daniels III shot and killed a campus police officer, Daniels stole his gun then threatened to kill him when he confronted him about it.

The stolen gun was the same caliber, make and model as the gun investigators believed Daniels used on Oct. 9, 2017, to shoot and kill Officer Floyd East Jr. in the briefing room at the Texas Tech Police Department.

Daniels, who entered an open plea of guilty on Monday to count of capital murder, faces between life in prison without parole and the death penalty.

He admitted to shooting and killing Texas Tech police officer Floyd East Jr. at the Texas Tech police station after East had arrested him for an unrelated drug offense.

Defense attorneys hope to spare their client a death sentence by showing that Daniels' did not pose a future danger, saying his actions the night he shot and killed East were driven by a combination of mental illness and drug addiction that no longer plagues him.

Meanwhile, prosecutors argued that Daniels' actions that night warrant a death sentence and said he had squandered the opportunities he was previously given to break away from his path of self-destruction.

Johns was among a handful of people who were a part of Daniels core group of friends when he moved from Seguin to Lubbock to attend Texas Tech University.

Madison Davenport, who was a member of that core group of friends, told jurors said she met Daniels at the dorms of Texas Tech. She described Daniels as a "pretty cool guy" who was passionate about music, particularly rap, and aspired to be a radio DJ.

However, she began seeing a darker side to Daniels saying he appeared to have a fixation with death and suicide, and shared his fascination about the the death of Kurt Cobain, the Nirvana front man, who died by suicide in 1994.

She said Daniels' behavior would change when he was on drugs, especially on Xanax. She said Daniels was often forgetful and hostile when he was on the antianxiety drug.

Davenport told jurors that group of friends usually gathered at a Johns' house in the 3400 block of 28th Street.

However, Daniels behavior got so bad that the group began to exclude him, Davenport said.

"We decided that we weren't going to tolerate using anything more than marijuana," she said.

Wyatt Pustejovsky, another member of the group, told jurors Daniels' morbid leanings made him uncomfortable and suggested to Daniels to seek help.

Pustejovsky described Daniels as belligerent and aggressive when he under the influence of Xanax. He was often forgetful too.

Meanwhile, Johns said Daniels had reached out weeks before the shooting to the group apologizing for his behavior and asking to be allowed back in the group.

Johns said for a while, Daniels appeared back to normal.

However, the group, who testified individually, told jurors that Daniels' behavior backslid and the night before the shooting he started acting forgetful and hostile.

They said at some point in the night, Daniels left without saying goodbye, which was unusual for him.

Johns told jurors that as he was going to bed that night, he noticed his gun, a black .45 caliber Springfield XD pistol that he kept on his nightstand, was missing.

Pustejovsky, told jurors he saw Daniels in Johns' room that night.

Johns said he called Daniels' and asked him to return to the house to talk about the gun.

He said Daniels arrived and they both argued about the theft, with Daniels denying that he took the gun, saying if he did he would have already shot him with it.

He said the argument moved outside when Daniels let them search his vehicle for the missing weapon, which they never found.

John's said Daniels' threatened him repeatedly, saying he didn't fight fair and that if he did have his gun he would shoot him.

He said during the argument, Daniels appeared to reach for what he believed to be a weapon and punched him in self defense.

"Shoot or stab I didn't know what he had, but from what he was saying…," Johns told jurors.

Davenport told jurors she was inside the house during the fight but said she believed she heard Daniels bawling after Johns struck him, saying "I have depression, even if I did take your gun, I would have used it to kill myself."

Johns said he and the rest of the group went back in the house and Daniels left only to return about 10 minutes later, and appeared to be pacing outside the home.

He said they barricaded themselves in the house and armed themselves with shotguns in case Daniels began shooting at them.

Davenport, who hid in the bathroom, called 911, telling a dispatcher that they believed one of their friends had stolen a gun, was dealing with depression and had talked about killing themselves.

Pustejovsky said Daniels appeared to be holding a flashlight to the ground and appeared to be searching for something.

However, he told jurors that he still feared for his life.

"If he does have a gun, we do not want that possibility of getting hurt," he said.

Lubbock police officer Clint Duckworth told jurors that he spotted Daniels driving his BMW X5 southbound on Indiana Avenue and stopped him in response to Davenport's 911 call.

Footage from Duckworth's body camera was played to jurors. Daniels could be heard telling the officer that he was coming home from a friend's house where he had an argument about a stolen gun.

Daniels appeared calm, polite and cooperative, a stark contrast to the belligerent and hostile person his friends described.

He said the friend, who he identified as Johns, hit him and he believe he phone fell out and he returned to the residence to find it.

During the stop, Daniels refused consent to search his vehicle. And Duckworth told jurors he found no cause to search the vehicle without consent or arrest Daniels that night.

Meanwhile, another officer contacted the group of friends on the 28th Street house to get their version of events.

Ultimately, Duckworth told jurors that he released Daniels with a criminal trespass warning and told him that he would be a suspect in a theft of a firearm investigation.

Daniels would return to his dorm at Talkington Hall on Tech Campus where he lived with three roommates. George Vaughan and Andreas Olivo told jurors that they were woken up with a loud sound that they believed to be a gunshot.

Vaughan told jurors he didn't confront Daniel's about it immediately saying he feared for his safety. He said he didn't know Daniels well.

Olivas told jurors he asked Daniels about it the next day and Daniels first told him the sound was from a book falling. However, he said he admitted that his gun went off accidentally.

Vaughan told jurors he and Olivo went to the police station at the Student Union Building to report the gunshot to police.

After the dust up at John's residence, Davenport told jurors that she reached out to Daniel's mother, Janice, and shared her concerns.

She said she was in contact with Janice Daniels, who was making her way to Lubbock.

Lisa Viator, managing director of Texas Tech student counseling center, told jurors that Janice Daniels called the school's crisis hotline saying she believed her son was suicidal and had access to a gun.

However, the records show, a counselor spoke with Hollis Daniels, who denied having a gun or having any plans to kill himself.

The counselor determined that no further intervention was needed since Daniels appeared positive and did not appear distressed.

A few hours later, a campus-wide alert was raised about an active shooter on campus.

Davenport told jurors she told Daniels' mother to pray.

The trial continues Wednesday.

This article originally appeared on Lubbock Avalanche-Journal: Witnesses say Daniels stole gun the night before officer's fatal shooting