MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) - The shooting of a 34-year-old Norton Shores man who confronted police with a sword and yelled, "Shoot me!" was justified, the Muskegon County prosecutor's office ruled Monday.
On July 12, police responded to a domestic violence call in the 600 block E. Sternberg Road. Within five minutes, police shot and killed Christopher Burroughs. He was 34.
In his written opinion released Monday, Prosecutor Tony Tague wrote:
"The Michigan State Police conducted a thorough investigation into the shooting death of Christopher Charles Burroughs. A review of all the evidence presented to my office, including indisputable audio evidence, clearly establishes that Sergeant Matthew Rhyndress used reasonable force in his confrontation with decedent Burroughs and was justified in using deadly force against decedent Burroughs in defense of himself and others. The officer's belief that his life, as well as the lives of fellow responding officers, was threatened was clearly reasonable under all the circumstances underlying this attack by decedent Burroughs. Without Sergeant Rhyndress' intervention, an assault by Burroughs, armed with a sword, would have likely resulted in great bodily harm, or death, to Sergeant Rhyndress and/or his fellow officers."
Here is the complete report:
The following factual incident report and subsequent legal opinion are the result of an investigation into the death of Christopher Charles Burroughs, date of birth January 4, 1978, shot by Sergeant Matt Rhyndress of the Norton Shores Police Department on July 12, 2012, at 643 East Sternberg Road, Norton Shores. Burroughs died from his injuries on July 13, 2012.
On July 12, 2012, at approximately 5:09 p.m., Norton Shores Police Department officers were dispatched to 643 East Sternberg Road in the City of Norton Shores. 911 Central Dispatch advised that the call was domestic in nature, related to a 911 hang up call from the residence. A subsequent call back to the residence by dispatch resulted in a male answering the phone while a female could be heard screaming in the background. Officer Sara Petrucha was advised by dispatch that a female with blood on her face was waiting at 605 East Sternberg, which was later revealed to be three houses west of 643 East Sternberg. Ofc. Petrucha arrived at 605 East Sternberg and spoke with Bonnie Ray, the girlfriend of Christopher Burroughs, and Ray advised Petrucha that Burroughs had attacked her and was carrying a sword. Ray advised Burroughs was inside 643 East Sternberg, and that Burroughs had told Ray that he was not going back to jail. In a post-shooting interview with Petrucha, Ray indicated Burroughs threatened to kill her while she was inside the house. Ray also recounted that Burroughs indicated he would not be taken by the police.
Petrucha drove her cruiser to 637 East Sternberg and made contact with Justin Troyer, who advised that he saw a male with a sword walking behind the two houses (637 and 643) and Troyer thought it looked like the male was heading toward the baseball field behind the residence where children were getting ready to play a game. At that time, Sergeant Matthew Rhyndress and Officer Michael Wasilewski had arrived at the house and the three officers began to set up a perimeter around 643. Officer Wasilewski advised that he saw Burroughs inside the residence, carrying a sword type weapon. He further advised Burroughs refused commands to come to the door of the residence.
643 East Sternberg is a single story ranch type dwelling on the south side of Sternberg Road. There are three exterior doors to the house; one in front, one on the east side, and one on the southwest corner at the rear of the house. There is a 10 x 10 deck attached to the southwest corner, connected to a wheelchair ramp which runs along the back of the house. The deck is approximately 4 feet off the ground, and the ramp descends to ground level from west to east.
Ofc. Petrucha positioned herself at the southwest corner, which was in the rear of the residence. Sgt. Rhyndress took a position on the southeast corner to observe the east side door, and Ofc. Wasilewski stayed at the front door on the north side of the residence.
Sgt. Rhyndress, calling on his training and experience as a member of the Muskegon County Emergency Response Team (ERT) made a decision not to try and enter the house, but rather call the ERT to the scene. This call was never made as the situation unfolded rapidly. Rhyndress advised Ofc. Petrucha and Ofc. Wasilewski to maintain their positions so that each officer could maintain surveillance on the three doors to the residence. Rhyndress advised that this decision was made based on the potential threat to the public if Burroughs left the residence armed with a sword, specifically the threat to the medical crew and other witnesses in the front of the house, and the children at the baseball field behind the house.
Once in position, the three officers maintained
visual contact on the premises with their firearms drawn. From his view into the residence at the front door, Ofc. Wasilewski observed Burroughs exit the bathroom of the residence and head into a room on the southwest corner of the house. Wasilewski advised Rhyndress and Petrucha of his observation, and headed to the back of the house.
As Ofc. Wasilewski began to approach the backyard, Burroughs exited the residence via the southwest door carrying a sword in his right hand. Ofc. Petrucha gave repeated commands to Burroughs to drop the sword, as did Sgt. Rhyndress. Review of the in-car video from each officer reveals clearly that both Petrucha and Rhyndress ordered Burroughs to drop the sword five times each. In response, Burroughs replied "shoot me". Burroughs began to approach Petrucha while she was positioned 2 to 3 feet from the deck and said "You're going to have to shoot me." Rhyndress perceived this as a threat to Petrucha and continued to give verbal commands to Burroughs to drop the sword.
Burroughs then turned his attention toward Rhyndress who, by this time, had approached the ramp. Burroughs turned away from Petrucha and began to walk down the ramp toward Rhyndress and said "Just shoot me." Petrucha notes that as Burroughs started to walk down the ramp, he raised the sword in a baseball like stance over his left shoulder with his right shoulder angled down toward Rhyndress. Rhyndress observed Burroughs motion as though he was going to jump over the railing, and observed Burroughs pull the sword back. Burroughs was approximately half-way down the ramp, roughly 8 feet from Rhyndress. Rhyndress' report indicates "Because of his actions I was in fear Burroughs was going to charge at me with the sword. I also believed that the lives of others that were in the area were in imminent danger." In-car video reveals that Rhyndress told Burroughs "I'm going to shoot you." Rhyndress continued to view Burroughs as a threat even after this last warning and discharged his service firearm at Burroughs three times.
Ofc. Petrucha's report indicates the first shot fired by Rhyndress struck Burroughs along the back right shoulder with Burroughs holding the sword in the baseball swing-like stance but Burroughs continued to walk down the ramp carrying the sword. Petrucha noted Rhyndress took a step back and fired another shot which caused Burroughs head to jerk to the left, and then a third shot was fired at which time Burroughs dropped the sword, slumped forward and down onto the ramp, then rolled slowly off the ramp partially onto the grass.
Sgt. Rhyndress called for medical attention for Burroughs and can be heard, on the in-car video, saying "we are going to do everything we can to save his life." Burroughs was treated briefly on-scene by fire and paramedic personnel, and then transported to Hackley Hospital. Burroughs was placed on life support, and died the following day on Friday, July 13.
The Muskegon County Medical Examiner conducted an autopsy on the body of Christopher Burroughs. An examination of Burroughs body revealed three distinct gunshot wounds, consistent with three shots fired from Sgt. Rhyndress. Burroughs sustained a gunshot wound on the right suprascapular region of the upper back with a downward leftward trajectory, travelling just 7 cm below the skin before exiting. This wound is consistent with Petrucha's description of the first shot fired by Rhyndress. Burroughs was wielding the sword like a baseball bat, exposing his upper right back to Rhyndress. Burroughs right shoulder was angled downward. The bullet passed through Burroughs back on an upward trajectory, but since Burroughs' right shoulder was dipped, the wound appears downward if viewed with the body positioned standing up straight. Burroughs sustained a gunshot wound to the right side of the face with a trajectory path frontward, downward, and leftward into the mandibular area where a bullet was recovered. Finally, Burroughs sustained a second gunshot wound to the head with entry on the left posterior parietal region of the scalp, with a trajectory frontward, downward, and rightward, passing through the skull and the brain. The bullet exited on the left frontal region of the forehead. A fragment of a bullet jacket was recovered from the brain. The head wounds are consistent with Burroughs upper body twisting so that he was facing the house, as described by Petrucha. The conclusion of the Medical Examiner was that the cause of death was gunshot wounds to the head.
Sgt. Rhyndress has been employed as a police officer beginning in 1992. Sgt. Rhyndress was hired by the Norton Shores Police Department in 1998. He was promoted to the rank of Corporal in 2006, then Sergeant in 2012, and has been a member of the Muskegon County Emergency Response Team (ERT). Sgt. Rhyndress has received specialized training in entries and hostage rescue. In addition, Sgt. Rhyndress received specialized training and worked as an undercover detective for the West Michigan
Enforcement Team (WEMET) from 1998 to 2001. Officer Wasilewski has been employed as a patrolman by the Norton Shores Police Department since October of 1993. Officer Petrucha has been employed as an officer with the Norton Shores Police Department since October of 2011.
A review of Christopher Burroughs' criminal history reveals a number of prior convictions as well as multiple police contacts. Most recently, on June 1, 2012, Officer Ginka of the Norton Shores Police Department was dispatched to 621 East Sternberg on a report of a male suspect harassing children at a baseball field. The male suspect was Burroughs and it was reported that Burroughs was yelling at some kids, asking if they wanted to "fight to the death" and to "come shout at the wolfman." Burroughs acknowledged the contact to Officer Ginka.
On June 3, 2011, Burroughs was arrested and charged with Illegal Entry for breaking into the home of an ex-girlfriend, Jennifer Williams. Burroughs was later convicted of the charge. In 2009, Williams obtained a Personal Protection Order against Burroughs. That same year, Burroughs was also convicted of Illegal Entry, with Williams as the victim. In 2007, Burroughs was convicted of Assault and Battery. Burroughs record further shows a 1995 felony conviction for Attempted Larceny from a Motor Vehicle.
In addition, the investigation by the Michigan State Police revealed a photograph on Burrough's Facebook page depicting a robot carrying a sword, bearing the caption "Man brings sword to gun fight .. .and wins."
III LEGAL ANALYSIS
The law in the State of Michigan is clear regarding the use of deadly force by a police officer. Numerous court decisions have clarified the use of deadly force by police officers in a myriad of different circumstances. "Police officers, especially when faced with a potentially dangerous situation, must be given a wide degree of discretion in determining what type of action will best ensure the safety of the individuals involved and the general public ...." Ross v Consumers Power Co (On Rehearing), 420 Mich 567, 659 (1984). This allows a police officer to use as much force as is reasonably necessary. Tope v Howe, 179 Mich App 91, 106 (1989). If a police officer has a reasonable belief that he or she is in great danger, the officer may use such force as is reasonably necessary in self-defense, and the officer is not required to retreat when confronted with a display of force by the suspect. Alexander v Riccinto, 192 Mich App 65, 69 (1991). "A peace officer may use deadly force in defense of his own life, in defense of another, or in pursuit of a fleeing felon." Ealey v Detroit, 144 Mich App 324, 332 (1985). defense of another. MCL 780.972 authorizes any individual to use "deadly force" when "[t]he individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm .. . to another individual." In Michigan, the Supreme Court has made clear that "fflustifiable homicide is the result of ... a police officer acting reasonably in the course of his or her duties". People v Dykhouse, 418 Mich 488, 510 n 10 (1984) (emphasis supplied) (CAVANAGH, J., dissenting).
Initially, in examining the actions of the decedent and officers, we are guided by the principles provided by the Michigan Supreme Court in People v Doss, 406 Mich 90, 102 (1979):
The reasonableness of the force used must be judged in the light of the circumstances as they appeared to the officer at the time he acted, and the measure is generally considered to be that which an ordinarily prudent and intelligent person, with the knowledge and in the situation of the arresting officer, would have deemed necessary under the circumstances. The officer has discretion, within reasonable limits, to determine the amount of force which the circumstances require, and he is not guilty of wrong unless he arbitrarily abuses the power confided in him.
In this instance, officers were initially dispatched to a domestic assault. Upon making contact with the victim, who was visibly injured, the officers attempted contact with the suspect. When they learned the suspect was armed with a sword, and unwilling to exit the residence, Sgt. Rhyndress, utilizing his training and experience with the Emergency Response Team, made a tactical decision to secure the premise rather than force entry and risk injury to the officers or the suspect. Before the call to the Emergency Response Team could be effectuated, the suspect exited the residence armed with a four foot long sword.
At that point, both Rhyndress and Petrucha, with weapons drawn, gave at least 10 verbal commands to Burroughs to drop the weapon. Their attempts to disarm Burroughs were thwarted, with Burroughs replying "shoot me", "just shoot me", and "you're going to have to shoot me", indicating Burroughs understood and chose to disregard the officer's commands. Burroughs was approximately 8 to 10 feet from Rhyndress wielding a sword like
a baseball bat in Rhyndress' direction. Fearing for his own immediate safety, as well as the safety of Ofc. Petrucha, Ofc. Wasilewski, the children playing baseball at a field directly behind the residence, as well as the myriad of citizens and emergency responders collected in front of the residence, Sgt. Rhyndress gave a final command to Burroughs. When this command was again rebuffed, Sgt. Rhyndress fired his service pistol, striking Burroughs three times. As noted by Ofc. Petrucha, after the first shot Burroughs continued to hold the sword, necessitating additional efforts to subdue and neutralize the threat.
In the moments that followed the shots, Sgt. Rhyndress immediately called for medical assistance for Burroughs, and is heard telling Ofc. Petrucha and Ofc. Wasilewski, that "we are going to do everything we can to save his life."
There is no doubt that Sgt. Rhyndress reasonably feared for his own life, as well as the lives of Officer Petrucha and Officer Wasilewski. Burroughs was less than 10 feet from Rhyndress, a distance which could be covered in less than 2 seconds, if not sooner armed with a four foot sword. If Officer Wasilewski had approached from the east, rather than the west, he would have been directly in Burroughs path. Officer Petrucha was also no more than 15 feet from Burroughs. Burroughs was given over 10 commands to drop the sword, but refused, and made clear his intent by saying "you are going to have to shoot me."
The Michigan State Police conducted a thorough investigation into the shooting death of Christopher Charles Burroughs. A review of all the evidence presented to my office, including indisputable audio evidence, clearly establishes that Sergeant Matthew Rhyndress used reasonable force in his confrontation with decedent Burroughs and was justified in using deadly force against decedent Burroughs in defense of himself and others. The officer's belief that his life, as well as the lives of fellow responding officers, was threatened was clearly reasonable under all the circumstances underlying this attack by decedent Burroughs. Without Sergeant Rhyndress' intervention, an assault by Burroughs, armed with a sword, would have likely resulted in great bodily harm, or death, to Sergeant Rhyndress and/or his fellow officers.
Dated: September 10, 2012
TonyTague Prosecuting Attorney
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