McClain Witness: 'There Was No Reason to Shoot'


  • Thomas McClain
Thomas “Tommy” McClain was walking toward Eureka police officers with his hands raised above waist level while navigating a barrage of conflicting commands when he was fatally shot, according to witness testimony today.

Nichole Mottern, the wife of McClain’s cousin, who was standing in front of the Allard Avenue home the three shared that night, said she watched the events transpire in disbelief.

“I was in shock. I was completely petrified. I thought they were going to kill me next,” Mottern said during her tearful testimony on the third day of a federal trial in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by McClain’s parents. “I didn’t know why this was happening.”

In all the confusion, Mottern said she wasn’t certain who the police were yelling at, but she was “100 percent” sure McClain had his hands up when he was shot.

The 22-year-old died a few hours after being hit by three of the seven bullets fired by officer Steven Linfoot in the early morning hours of Sept. 17, 2014. Police say McClain reached for what turned out to be an unload BB gun tucked in his waistband that realistically resembled a pistol.

The night had unfolded in ways no one involved could possibly have imagined.

Mottern testified that she, McClain and another woman had taken her husband out for the evening to celebrate his birthday. Within an hour of coming home, McClain was dead.

“There was no reason to shoot,” Mottern testified.

Unbeknownst to them, a police surveillance sting focused on the townhouse next door had watched them arrive. Two officers testified earlier this week that they became concerned about an interaction McClain had with a man on the street and believed McClain might have a gun.

Linfoot was sent to drive by the home, with the idea that the site of passing officer would move McClain inside. Instead, the officers testified, McClain pulled out the replica gun, racked it and placed it back in his waistband.

The situation then quickly escalated, with police confronting McClain on the porch of the green house with white trim. Officers testified that he took on a confrontational tone and lowered his hands more than once, defying police commands, before being shot when he reached for his waistband.

Mottern said the front yard with a scattering of children’s toys was so brightly lit that all she could see was McClain and the grass as she heard shouts of “get down,” “put your hands up” and “I see a gun” in the moments before the gunfire erupted.

Under questioning from the city’s attorney, Nancy Delaney, Mottern said she didn’t hear any conversation McClain might have had earlier with the three officers who had their guns trained on him before she came out of the house. She also said she didn’t know he had a weapon.

While her husband had way too much to drink that night, Mottern testified McClain wasn’t showing any signs of intoxication but had consumed several cocktails. He used hearing aids and was practically blind without glasses, but she said she doesn’t remember him saying he couldn’t understand the officers.

“It was confusing because everyone was yelling,” Mottern testified.

Three children, ages 5 years old and younger, were inside the residence when the shooting occurred, along with Mottern’s mother, who had been watching them. One of the bullets hit the house, Mottern said.

The first time police spoke to her about what happened was around 4 a.m., just after she was informed at the hospital that McClain had died, Mottern said.

“I told them, ‘I hope you do a thorough investigation because it was wrong.’ He was complying. Tommy was complying,” Mottern testified. “I still feel to this day that it should have been a murder.”

McClain’s parents also took the stand, struggling to hold back emotions as they talked about how much their lives have changed in the wake of their son’s death. While the couple separated when McClain was a young boy, each said they maintained a close relationship with him.

Lance McClain, wearing a charcoal gray suit jacket with a purple T-shirt, began crying the moment he took the stand. After a short break, he related how much he loved McClain, his only child, saying his son was his everything.

“It’s affected my life. It’s affected my relationships. It’s affected everything about me,” Lance McClain testified through tears. “It’s just created a big black hole inside my soul.”

McClain’s mother Jeanne Barragan talked about how much her oldest child loved animals and children, saying she’s now caring for his ailing dog that will soon need to be put down but she can’t bear to her let go.

Barragan described how she struggled to make decisions about McClain’s funeral because she never imagined she would have to bury her son. Her world, Barragan said, has been forever altered.

“We used to go all out on holidays,” she said. “Now we don’t really have too much on Thanksgiving. On Halloween, we shut the door and turn the lights out. All I can think about is him not being here anymore.”

Closing arguments are expected to take place Friday.

Two jurors have left the panel over the course of three days — one due to a family death and the second informed the court today that he had knowledge about one of the witnesses — leaving five women and one man to now decide the civil case.

Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version to correct the spelling of Nichole Mottern's name.

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