LOWELL, Mich. (WOOD) — A Lowell police officer charged with assault for shooting at a stolen car in August said he feared for his life when the car backed up toward him on a dark road, according to court records.
Officer Jason Diaz jumped back into his patrol car and fired three shots as the stolen car scraped the side of his vehicle.
One of those shots struck a passenger in the arm.
But it was the eight shots he fired from behind at the fleeing car that led to charges that could send him to prison. One of those shots grazed a teenager in the back of the head.
Diaz, 40, of Wyoming, has since resigned from the department.
The state attorney general’s office determined the stolen car was “no longer a threat to the officer,” Ionia County Sheriff’s Detective Sgt. Phillip Hesche testified at a probable cause hearing. “It was no longer a threat to the public. It was on a back road and that vehicle was driving away. He needlessly fired those eight additional rounds.”
One of those shots pierced the trunk of the stolen car, the rear steel wall and the backseat before grazing the back of a 15-year-old boy’s head, according to testimony.
“It is only really through an act of luck or divine intervention that the kid didn’t die from that bullet hitting him in the back of the head,” the detective testified.
The hearing led to charges of assault with intent to do great bodily harm, violation of police use of force policies and careless discharge of a weapon. If convicted, Diaz could face up to 10 years in prison.
At Diaz’s arraignment, Assistant Attorney General Alexandria Casperson told the judge that Diaz showed up for court with only one thing in his possession: a live 9 mm bullet. That led to a request for a higher bond to protect Diaz from harming himself and others.
Ionia County Magistrate David Wirth released him on a $50,000 10% bond.
The incident started early in the morning on Aug. 29 at Fulton Street near Alden Nash Avenue SE in Lowell when Diaz tried to stop the red Chevrolet Impala. The driver had failed to dim his high beams, and the car had no license plate.
Later, police determined the car had been stolen in Grand Rapids.
Diaz gave chase as the car sped away east on M-21 at more than 100 mph, before entering Ionia County and heading north on Whites Bridge Road.
The road was blocked by a tree, which had fallen in a storm earlier in the day.
Diaz said he got out of his car and ordered the driver to show his hands. Instead, he said, the car sped backwards toward him. He said he jumped back into his patrol car and fired three shots at the passing Impala.
One of those shots struck a passenger in the right arm.
Diaz said his gun misfired twice before he fired eight more shots at the car.
He then radioed, “Shots fired, he tried to take me out with a vehicle.”
The stolen car was headed back west on M-21 when it crashed. Police used a drone to find the five passengers.
Police said they used dash and body cameras to determine what happened.
Investigators said they found no records that Diaz was trained by Lowell police, though he had no issues involving use of force at his prior jobs, including at the Muskegon Heights Police Department.
They said the Lowell police policy prohibits firing at moving vehicles unless it’s a “last resort.”
In a statement, Diaz said only that he “fired an unknown number of rounds at the vehicle as it accelerated.” He didn’t say whether the car was going toward him or away.
In August, Lowell police told News 8 that Diaz fired at the car as it drove toward him.
In a statement, the Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council argued that Diaz behaved appropriately, protecting himself and following the law. Attorneys for the union say he was cleared by an internal investigation of his own department.
Diaz is to appear in Ionia County District Court on April 14 to determine if there’s enough evidence to send the case to trial.