Police officer who killed Nelsonville man enters plea and loses badge

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — A police officer who shot and killed a Nelsonville man last summer made a plea deal under which he avoided jail time but will never again be able to work as a law enforcement officer in Ohio.

A screenshot from body cam footage of the incident involving officer Cecil Morrison and the shooting death of Michael Whitmer. The screenshot shows the aftermath of Whitmer trying to drive away from the scene.
A screenshot of bodycam footage from the shooting incident involving Cecil Morrison and Michael Whitmer. [Screenshot by WOUB]
Cecil Morrison was charged Monday with negligent homicide in the death of Michael Whitmer. On Wednesday, Morrison pleaded no contest to the charge, a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail.

He was not sentenced to serve time in jail as part of the plea deal. Morrison was ordered to permanently surrender his Ohio Peace Officer Training Certificate. This means he cannot be employed in the state of Ohio as a law enforcement officer.

A no contest plea means Morrison is not admitting guilt but does agree to the facts alleged in the criminal complaint. It also means his plea cannot be used against him later in a civil lawsuit.

The charge against Morrison came eight months after he fired multiple shots at Whitmer’s car, shattering the driver’s side front and rear windows.

Whitmer’s child was sitting in a car seat in the back of the car on the passenger side. The child was not harmed.

“We are lucky that only one person was deceased from this,” said Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn.

The shooting happened after Morrison arrived at a Nelsonville residence late last July to assist a Nelsonville police officer on a domestic disturbance call. Morrison was an officer with Hocking College at the time.

The incident was captured by a body cam, and the footage was later made public.

When Morrison arrived, Whitmer was sitting in a red sedan in the driveway and the Nelsonville officer was yelling at him to get out of the car.

Whitmer instead backed up and ran into a police cruiser that was partially blocking the driveway. As the Nelsonville officer continued to order him out of the car, Whitmer twice pulled forward and back again in an attempt to clear the cruiser.

Once Whitmer got his car out of the driveway, Morrison opened fire. The Nelsonville officer was struck by ricocheting bullets and had to be hospitalized.

“The loss was not only for the family of the victim here,” Blackburn said. “We had an officer shot as a result of this incident.”

The shooting was referred to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations. Blackburn launched his own investigation, and while that was ongoing, Morrison was hired by the Nelsonville Police Department on a provisional basis.

Blackburn said he hired two experts in police shootings, one from Los Angeles and one from Columbus, to review the case.

The two reached opposite conclusions as to whether the shooting was justified. The main point of disagreement was whether Whitmer was using his car as a weapon, Blackburn said.

Blackburn said his own conclusion was that the officers were not in harm’s way and that Morrison “was not properly trained and should not have been in the situation.”

The negligent homicide charge and the outcome of Morrison’s plea were negotiated between his attorney and the prosecutor’s office. Whitmer’s wife and the attorney for his estate were both in agreement with the plea deal, Blackburn said.