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SUMMARY

On March 2, 2017, an officer-involved shooting took place at the intersection of Swan Avenue and Morning Glory Lane in the Town of Rib Mountain, Marathon County, Wisconsin.  While on patrol in a fully marked squad car, Deputy Megan Sowinski of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office observed a pickup truck stopped at the intersection of Swan Avenue and Morning Glory Lane.  The driver’s side door of the pickup truck was open and there was one individual standing outside the vehicle with his hands raised in front of his body and one individual in the driver’s side compartment area.  The individual inside the driver’s side of the vehicle was seated on the floor board with his legs out of the vehicle.  This individual was later identified as John J. Hall.  Upon arrival at the location of the parked vehicle, Deputy Sowinski observed that Hall was armed with a firearm.  She observed that the individual standing outside of the vehicle with his hands raised was within arms’ reach of Hall and Hall was pointing the firearm in the direction of that individual.  Deputy Sowinski requested backup upon observing that Mr. Hall had a firearm.  Law enforcement officers from several agencies and the Marathon County Crisis Negotiation Team responded to the scene.  Deputy Brandon Stroik of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office was on duty at the time and did respond to Deputy Sowinski’s request for backup.  Law enforcement attempted to negotiate with Hall for nearly two and a half hours as Hall continued to brandish a firearm and hold the second individual as a hostage.  Law enforcement’s repeated attempts to get Hall to drop his firearm were unsuccessful.  Hall armed himself with a second firearm and continued to point the firearms toward law enforcement and the hostage.  As Hall became increasingly visibly agitated while brandishing two firearms, Deputy Stroik fired one round from his service weapon and fatally shot Hall.

After careful consideration of all the available evidence, I have concluded that Deputy Brandon Stroik was justified in his use of lethal force during this incident.  The summary and analysis of the relevant facts discovered during the course of the investigation which form the basis for this conclusion are set forth below.

 INVESTIGATION AND REVIEW

As a result of the incident, and pursuant to the laws of the State of Wisconsin, a comprehensive investigation was undertaken by the Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI).  The Marathon County Sheriff’s Office requested the assistance of DCI pursuant to Wisconsin Statutes § 175.47, which requires investigation into a law enforcement officer-involved death be conducted by an agency independent from the agency that employs the law enforcement officer involved.  Further, Wisconsin Statute § 175.47(5)(a) requires that the investigation reports from an officer-involved death be provided to the district attorney of the county in which the officer-involved death occurred.  Upon review, in accordance with Wisconsin Statutes § 175.47(5)(b), the district attorney for the county in which the officer-involved death occurred is to determine whether there is a basis to prosecute the law enforcement officer involved.

 MATERIALS REVIEWED

The investigation in this matter included interviews, records, investigative reports, scene mapping, photographs, squad video, evidence collection, laboratory testing, an autopsy report and photographs, the toxicology report for Hall, Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory reports and other miscellaneous information.  These items were reviewed and the following is a summary of that information.

 FACTUAL SUMMARY

On March 2, 2017, at approximately 1:04 a.m., Deputy Megan Sowinski of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office was on routine patrol when she observed a pickup truck stopped at the intersection of Swan Avenue and Morning Glory Lane in the Town of Rib Mountain, Marathon County, Wisconsin.  Deputy Sowinski believed the truck was in the ditch or may have been involved in a crash as she observed clutter in the street near the vehicle.  Deputy Sowinski was operating a fully marked Marathon County Sheriff’s Office vehicle.  She parked her patrol vehicle in the intersection facing southwest toward the pickup truck.  The patrol vehicle was equipped with a functioning camera that was operational and turned on.  The camera captured the incident from the moment Deputy Sowinski pulled up to the intersection.  As Deputy Sowinski got out of her vehicle she observed two males near the open driver side door of the vehicle.  One of the males Deputy Sowinski observed was standing outside the open door in between the open door and the door post.  The other male was seated on the running board on the driver’s side.  Deputy Sowinski observed the seated male’s hand come out from behind the driver’s side door and she observed a handgun in the male’s hand.  The male standing outside the vehicle stated, “He’s fucking crazy and he has a gun pointed at me!” 

Deputy Sowinski did not retreat from the situation but rather held her position and immediately called for law enforcement back-up.  Deputy Sowinski’s patrol vehicle was 28 feet from the pickup truck.  Despite the threat to her personal safety at that distance, Deputy Sowinski continued to hold her position throughout the entire incident.  Deputy Sowinski requested that law enforcement officers responding to assist turn off their flashing lights before arrival in an effort to avoid escalation of the situation.  The scene of the incident is residential with numerous occupied dwellings surrounding the location of the pickup truck.  Deputy Sowinski continued to talk with the males in an urgent, yet calm, manner.  The male seated on the driver’s side running board was later identified as John J. Hall.  Deputy Sowinski ordered Hall multiple times to drop the gun.  Deputy Sowinski also continued to try to engage Hall in conversation.  Deputy Sowinski observed that Hall was continually moving his body erratically.  Law enforcement officers responding to the scene noted that Hall’s movements were very jerky and he seemed very agitated.  Responding officers familiar with the effects of methamphetamine noted, during the course of interviews with DCI that Hall’s demeanor and movements at the scene were very similar to the effects people display when they are under the influence of methamphetamine. 

Hall at times held the firearm, a handgun, in his left hand and proceeded to wave the handgun in the direction of other officers who had arrived on the scene as well as toward the civilian hostage.  Hall’s actions with the gun caused officers at the scene to have to seek cover.  The civilian hostage remained within reach of Hall throughout the incident.  Hall told Deputy Sowinski that he could see that there were other officers and if they came any closer he “was going to shoot them.”  Deputy Sowinski continued to talk with Hall.  Hall told her that she needed to check on his wife because she was being held hostage.  Law enforcement did respond to Hall’s residence and confirmed that his wife was safe.  Hall continued to make erratic movements and talk in an agitated tone.  Deputy Sowinski offered for Hall to talk with his wife if he would drop the gun.  Hall refused to drop the gun.  At approximately 1:18 a.m., Deputy Brandon Stroik of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office arrived on the scene.

Deputy Stroik enlisted in the United States Army Infantry in December of 2004.  Deputy Stroik was deployed to the 1st Armored Division in Germany in July, 2005 and then deployed to Iraq from January, 2006 until February, 2007.  He continued to serve until he was honorably discharged in May, 2008.  Deputy Stroik was designated as a “squad designated marksman” in the Army and received the Army Commendation Medal while deployed.  Deputy Stroik then joined the National Guard in September, 2008 and served until September, 2014, when he was honorably discharged.  While in the National Guard, Deputy Stroik was assigned to the scout platoon as a sniper with the 1/128th in April, 2010.  Deputy Stroik trained monthly in scouting, shooting, intelligence gathering, and radio communications.  Deputy Stroik was promoted to Sergeant and sniper team leader in late 2011 or early 2012.  While in the National Guard, Deputy Stroik received the Army Achievement Medal. 

Deputy Stroik is a graduate of the law enforcement academy at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and graduated from a 520 hour basic recruit school in April, 2009.   Deputy Stroik began his law enforcement career with the Village of Spencer Police Department in Marathon County as a part-time police officer in April, 2009 until December, 2009.  He continued his law enforcement service as a full-time deputy sheriff with Columbia County Sheriff’s Office from January, 2010 until December, 2013, where he was also a member of the SWAT Team and a canine handler.  While employed in Columbia County, he attended monthly SWAT training and sniper training as a member of the SWAT team.  Deputy Stroik began with the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office as a full-time patrol deputy and canine handler in January, 2014.  He is member of the SWAT Team and a sniper. 

Upon arrival, Deputy Stroik positioned himself in a field west of Swan Avenue and to the north of Morning Glory Lane, north of the pickup truck and approximately 45 yards away.  Deputy Stroik chose a position that put him in the best location to protect the civilian hostage, his fellow officers, and the local residents without regard for his personal safety.  He positioned himself in an area that provided concealment, but no protection from gun fire.  Deputy Stroik set up with his rifle and began observing through his scope.  Deputy Stroik was able to observe a handgun in Hall’s left hand and a bolt action rifle with a scope between the driver seat and the “B” pillar of the truck. 

Hall requested a cellular phone.  Deputy Sowinski’s first attempt to provide Hall with a cell phone was unsuccessful as Deputy Sowinski’s throw did not reach Hall.  Deputy Sowinski asked Hall if the civilian hostage could get the phone for Hall.  Hall told the civilian hostage that he was using the male as a shield because he knew that law enforcement would not shoot him if the male was in the way.  Hall said he did not want to hurt anyone.  Hall had his handgun pointed to the west over the seat of the truck through the rear window at officers to the west.  Deputy Stroik was able to observe at one point that Hall’s finger was on the trigger of the weapon. 

Hall requested another cellular phone.  A deputy assigned to the Explosives Ordinance Disposal Team brought a robot to the scene.  At 2:25 a.m., a cellular phone was successfully delivered by a tactical robot.  Hall appeared visibly upset about the robot’s presence and the robot was backed away from Hall.  Lieutenant Bill Taylor of the Wausau Police Department, a trained SWAT officer and sniper, responded to assist Deputy Sowinski.  He reported that he observed the feed from the camera mounted to the robot and could clearly see that Hall was in possession of a handgun and that Hall’s finger was covering the trigger. 

Deputy Sowinski continued to try to negotiate with Hall by phone.  Hall repeatedly stated that he did not believe that the officers at the scene were real police officers.  Hall requested to talk with particular police officers that Hall knew were real police officers from the Wausau Police Department.  Deputy Sowinski tried to get the requested officers to the scene.  One requested officer was out of the area and one was retired.  Deputy Sowinski offered for Hall to talk with one of the requested officers by phone or Face Time, but Hall refused.  Members of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Negotiation Team also arrived on scene.  On two occasions, Hall asked to talk with the Negotiation Team and Hall did speak with them by telephone. 

The civilian hostage at the scene remained at arms’ length or closer to Hall with his hands raised in a surrender posture until eventually he got into the front seat of the truck and was sitting on the center console or driver’s seat area while Hall was seated on the floorboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle with his feet outside the truck facing toward the northwest.  As Hall talked on the cellular phone, his movements became more animated.  He began to look underneath the truck while holding the handgun in his hand and look out the driver’s side window of the open driver’s side door with his gun moving in the air.  Deputy Stroik observed that Hall moved the rifle in the vehicle onto his lap with his right hand on the gun in a ready to fire grip and the handgun in Hall’s left hand.  Deputy Stroik observed as Hall pointed his gun at Deputy Stroik.  Other responding officers observed that Hall pointed and waved the gun in their direction on at least three occasions causing the officers to take cover.  Deputy Stroik was very conscious of the safety of the civilian hostage near Hall.  Despite Hall pointing his gun repeatedly at officers at the scene and at the civilian hostage, Deputy Stroik did not fire at Hall because of the close proximity of the civilian hostage to Hall. 

Responding officers discussed possibly charging at Hall and attempting to disarm him.  This was determined to not be a viable option because the officers would have to cover too much ground to reach Hall, giving Hall ample opportunity to shoot and kill them and/or the civilian hostage.

At approximately two hours and twenty minutes after Deputy Sowinski arrived at the scene, Hall dropped his hand gun onto the ground just outside the driver’s side of the vehicle.  Officer Peter Fish of the Wausau Police Department ordered Hall to not pick up the gun.  Up to this point in the incident, Deputy Sowinski was the only on-scene voice communicating with Hall.  Deputy Sowinski believes she had told Hall to drop his weapon at least 12 times during her negotiations with him.  Hall heard Officer Fish’s command, ignored it and picked up the gun.  Hall then yelled “Where are you?” and began looking under the truck and pointing the pistol in all directions.  Hall stood up out of the truck with the rifle in his hands and swung the rifle to the west and began to lower it towards the officers behind the truck to the west.  Hall then began to move the rifle back toward the civilian hostage and the civilian hostage raised his hands.  At this point, the civilian hostage was out of the direct line of fire of Deputy Stroik.  At 3:29 a.m., Deputy Stroik fired a single shot from his rifle.  At the time of firing the shot, Deputy Stroik stated that he felt the suspect was going to shoot the civilian hostage or possibly other officers, with the civilian hostage being in the most immediate danger as Hall had moved the rifle barrel in the direction of the civilian hostage. 

The single shot by Deputy Stroik struck Hall on the right side of his face resulting in fatal injuries.  An examination of Deputy Stroik’s gun confirmed that he had fired one round at the scene. 

A forensic autopsy was performed on Hall by Michael Stier, M.D., a staff pathologist with the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics in Madison, Wisconsin on March 2, 2017.  Hall’s body was brought to the University of Wisconsin Anatomic Pathology Laboratory by the Marathon County Medical Examiner in a sealed body bag.  Dr. Stier observed and removed Halls clothing for examination.  Dr. Stier noted that he located a small pink Ziploc-like baggy measuring approximately 4.6 cm maximally in the pocket watch pocket of Halls jeans.  The baggy was retained, as Dr. Stier noted that it was suggestive of drug use.  Blood and urine samples were also retrieved from Hall for toxicology.  After examination of Hall, Dr. Stier concluded that Hall died of a firearm injury sustained during an engagement with law enforcement. 

The blood and urine samples taken from Hall were submitted to NMS Laboratories. The results indicate the presence of methamphetamine in Hall’s blood at 1100 ng/ML.  The NMS Laboratory report indicates that “blood levels of 200-600 ng/ML have been reported in methamphetamine abusers who exhibited violent and irrational behavior.  High doses of methamphetamine can also elicit restlessness, confusion, hallucinations, circulatory collapse and convulsions”.[1]

The pink baggy located in the jeans pocket of Hall was submitted to the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory for testing.  The Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory reported that examinations of the residue from the baggie identified the presence of methamphetamine.

Hall’s wife of 7 years reported that Hall had been in a motor vehicle accident on November 10, 2016.  She stated that he had received a head injury as a result of the crash.  Medical records indicated a diagnosis of post-concussive syndrome.  Hall’s wife further stated that results of an MRI and CAT scan of Hall’s brain after the motor vehicle crash did not identify an injury to the brain.  An MRI in December 2016, did not show any acute abnormalities and a CAT scan of Hall’s head on November 29, 2016, revealed no evidence of acute fracture of malalignment.  Hall’s wife indicated that following the crash and, most significantly, in the recent weeks prior to March 2, 2017, Hall had been increasingly paranoid and hallucinating. Hall’s wife stated that although Hall was never physically abusive toward her, Hall’s paranoia led him to threaten her.

On the night of March 1, 2017, Hall was at his residence with his wife and the civilian hostage involved in this incident.  Shortly after 8:00 pm, Hall began tearing the house apart and cutting wires because Hall thought people were listening to him or watching him.  The civilian hostage in this incident observed this behavior.  The civilian hostage also stated that Hall had told him Hall’s guns were always loaded with a round in the chamber.  Hall had a pistol in the basement and the civilian hostage was able to get the pistol away from Hall initially, but Hall then picked it up again.  Hall then got out a scoped rifle and, while sitting on the couch with the firearm, it discharged going through part of the couch.  The sound of the shot was heard by Hall’s wife upstairs.  When leaving that evening at approximately 11:00 p.m., Hall insisted on bringing the rifle with him and he placed it in the front of the cab of the pickup truck next to the driver’s seat.  Between 11:00 p.m. and 1:00 a.m., the civilian hostage observed Hall’s behavior to be increasingly strange and escalating.  Hall brandished the gun ordering the civilian hostage to get into the truck.  Hall was waving the gun around and pointing the gun at the hostage.  The civilian hostage indicated that when Hall stopped the vehicle at the intersection of Swan Avenue and Morning Glory Lane, the civilian hostage was allowed to get out of the truck and he proceeded to move the salt bag in the back of the truck to show Hall that it was not a person.  The civilian hostage eventually took everything out of the back of the truck, including shovels, salt and other items.  Hall and the civilian hostage were at the intersection for 30 minutes to 45 minutes before Deputy Sowinski arrived.  Prior to Deputy Sowinski’s arrival, the civilian hostage tried to walk away from Hall and Hall told him that if he walked away, Hall would shoot him in the back.  The civilian hostage indicated that Hall had the pistol in his hand during the entire incident.  At one point, the civilian hostage confirmed that Hall had the rifle in one hand and the pistol in the other.  The civilian hostage stated that he thought he was going to die during that evening.  The civilian hostage said the officer tried to get Hall to put his gun down, but Hall would not.  The civilian hostage said that the officer also wanted Hall to let the civilian hostage go, but Hall would not allow that to happen. 

The guns possessed by Hall during the incident were a Black Norinco, model 213, 9mm semi-automatic pistol and a Winchester, model 70, .243 caliber bolt-action rifle.  Examination of the pistol revealed that the safety was in the “fire” position.  The magazine contained five live 9mm rounds and there were no rounds inserted into the chamber of the pistol.  The rifle safety was in the “fire” position and a live .243 caliber round was  removed from the chamber.

 LEGAL ANALYSIS

After review and consideration of all the information, it is clear that Deputy Brandon Stroik was justified in the use of lethal force during this incident with John J. Hall.  Deputy Stroik had a legal privilege to use deadly force to protect the civilian hostage, himself, the residents in the area, and fellow officers.  Deputy Stroik had an actual and reasonable belief that the force used was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another person.  Deputy Stroik had no reasonable opportunity to use any lesser means of force.

During the incident on March 2, 2017, Hall brandished two firearms, a pistol and a rifle, in a residential neighborhood.  Hall was ordered repeatedly by Deputy Sowinski to drop his weapon and Hall ignored Deputy Sowinski’s commands.  A civilian hostage was within reach of Hall as he waved and pointed the weapons at officers and the civilian hostage.  When Hall dropped the pistol, Hall was ordered to not pick up the pistol by Officer Fish.  Hall ignored Officer Fish’s orders, picked up the pistol and then proceeded to arm himself with a rifle.  Despite Hall’s behavior, Deputy Sowinski and members of the Marathon County Sheriff’s Office Crisis Negotiation Team attempted to convince Hall to drop his weapons for nearly two and a half hours.  Multiple officers and the civilian hostage expressed fear of death or great bodily harm under the circumstances.  The interviews of the law enforcement officers who were on scene, as well as the information from the civilian hostage and review of the patrol car videos, provide consistent accounts of the incident. 

Deputy Sowinski and the Crisis Negotiation Team members along with all the officers who responded to this incident acted with great restraint, demonstrating respect for the life of the civilian hostage and Hall. 

The Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation is commended for their very thorough investigation into this matter.  The review of the information from their investigation resulted in the very clear conclusion that the force used by Deputy Stroik was appropriate under the totality of the circumstances as presented during the incident on March 2, 2017.

 

Theresa Wetzsteon
District Attorney
Marathon County

 

 

[1] NMS Labs Supplemental Report dated March 22, 2017.

 

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Posted by Nancy S.