Oct. 15, 2002
The husband of a woman killed last week in a police shooting on Monday accused a Chandler officer of using excessive force.
John “Colby” Nelson said his wife, Dawn Rae Nelson — whose car knocked over a police motorcycle after Chandler officer Dan Lovelace stopped her at the Chandler drugstore where she was suspected of trying to fill a forged prescription — never posed a threat to the officer.
Police have said Dawn Rae Nelson’s Chevrolet Camaro struck Lovelace. But John Nelson said police told him the officer was standing next to his wife’s car when she began to drive away.
He said the account police gave him the night his wife was killed indicated to him that Lovelace was in no danger.
“I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at a police officer the same way,” John Nelson said Monday morning at his Ahwatukee Foothills home. “I thought it was excessive force, and it was.”
Chandler police have launched two investigations — one criminal and one internal — into the shooting death of Dawn Rae Nelson, 35, at a Walgreens drive-through window while her 14-month-old son was in the family’s car.
Police and city officials declined to comment about John Nelson’s claims
Monday, and said they would not release more information about the shooting until their investigations are completed.
The incident began about 3 p.m. Friday when Dawn Rae Nelson pulled into the drive-through window of Walgreens to buy the muscle relaxant Soma. Store clerks called police because they suspected her prescription was forged, and Lovelace arrived minutes later on his motorcycle.
John Nelson said Chandler police spoke with him hours after his wife was shot, and told him the following:
Lovelace blocked his wife’s path with his motorcycle, got off the motorcycle and walked to the driver’s side of the Camaro, where he told Dawn Rae Nelson to turn off the car and put the keys on the dashboard.
Lovelace then walked to the rear of the car to read the license plate. John Nelson said he did not know if Lovelace reached the back of the Camaro, but at some point Dawn Rae Nelson started the car and began to pull forward.
Lovelace came back to the driver’s side of the Camaro and at some point fired a shot, hitting Dawn Rae Nelson. “Maybe she panicked, she may have put it in drive,” John Nelson said. “For whatever reason, he shot her in the left side from the driver’s side. The window was down.”
The bullet went through Dawn Nelson’s shoulder and pierced her heart. Her car then lurched forward and knocked over Lovelace’s motorcycle, according to the information John Nelson said he heard from officers.
John Nelson said the officers told him that Lovelace attempted to stop the Camaro by reaching into the car through the window. The car ended up stopped on the bumper of an arriving police car, where it remained as Chandler detectives investigated into Friday evening.
John Nelson, a pilot for Mesa Air, said he and his wife were planning to leave Monday for a vacation to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. On Friday she decided to go to the mall to shop, John Nelson said. “She must have stopped at the Walgreens on the way home,” he said.
Nelson said his wife, a stay-at-home mom, had back pain from her pregnancy 14 months ago. Friends of the family said her pain stemmed from a car crash three months ago. John Nelson declined to talk about the crash, but he did say that Dawn Rae Nelson suffered a broken collarbone, broken ribs and facial fractures.
Dawn Rae Nelson was taking muscle relaxers for the pain, but John Nelson said he didn’t know if she was still taking them the week before the shooting. She saw her doctor Wednesday for a “pinched” shoulder from carrying their 14-month-old son, Kenneth, but her husband did not know if the doctor prescribed more medicine.
Pharmacy employees flagged Dawn Rae Nelson’s prescription as suspicious. When they contacted the doctor whose name was on the prescription, he told them he hadn’t signed it, and that’s when employees called police.
John Nelson said he found it hard to believe that his wife would have forged a prescription. “I don’t know. I could not see her forging a prescription,” John Nelson said.
About 45 family members and friends paid their respects on Monday at Lakeshore Mortuary in Mesa. “Arms Wide Open,” by the rock band Creed, and other songs played as relatives described a “gentle spirit.” “She was this perfect little princess Barbie doll,” said Trudy Nelson, John Nelson’s mother.
John Nelson said he and his wife had been married for 2 years, but had known each other for six years. Besides their youngest child, Dawn Rae Nelson has a 15-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old son from a previous relationship.
“She was a knockout,” John Nelson said. “I had to bug her a lot to get her to date me. She loved her children more than life itself.”
This is the second deadly incident Lovelace has been involved in as an officer. He is defending himself in a lawsuit stemming from a high-speed pursuit two years ago that led to the death of Bradley Downing, 19, a college student who lived in Gilbert.
According to documents the Tribune obtained, a Chandler police lieutenant who recommended an internal investigation of that incident alleged that Lovelace violated policy by failing to announce that he was in pursuit, failing to turn on his siren and failing to obey a sergeant’s verbal order.
According to a letter to Lovelace from Sgt. Mace Ebert, professional standards supervisor, the department found that Lovelace did fail to announce the pursuit but that it was “justified, lawful and proper.”
Ebert went on to say that Lovelace did not disobey an order, but he did fail to use his emergency lights and siren, for which he was given a letter of admonishment.
Chandler has already paid Downing’s mother a $1.4 million settlement as a result of the boy's death, but his father refused a similar settlement, and is seeking an apology and a promise that the city will rewrite its pursuit policy.