Family of man shot, killed by deputy sues

Kent County

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The family of a Grand Rapids man shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy two years ago is suing the deputies involved, the former and current sheriff, and Kent County.

A 32-page lawsuit filed in federal court Tuesday by Jonathan Sper’s estate alleges Deputies Jason Wiersma and John Tuinhoff, then-Sheriff Lawrence Stelma, then-Undersheriff Michelle LaJoye-Young and Kent County are responsible for Sper’s wrongful death at his brother’s home north of Rockford in January 2017.

Deputies had been called to the home because Sper, 30, who had bipolar and schizoaffective disorders, was fighting with one of his brothers. The lawsuit says the brother told 911 dispatchers and deputies that Sper was experiencing a manic episode and that he didn’t feel as though he was in danger. However, he also warned them that Sper may have been able to access to a gun in a vehicle in the garage.  

When Deputies Wiersma and Tuinhoff arrived, they confronted Sper in the garage. There was a fight, deputies used a Taser on Sper and one of the deputies sustained a minor stab wound. Eventually, Sper made it into the house and closed the door behind him. Wiersma then fired four rounds through the wooden door, shooting and killing Sper.

Sper was ultimately found not to be armed.

The lawsuit claims Wiersma and Tuinhoff used excessive force against Sper because he didn’t have a weapon and didn’t pose a serious physical threat, and also alleges the deputies didn’t provide appropriate medical care after he had been shot.

The suit goes on blames the sheriff’s department, specifically Stelma and Young, who is now the interim sheriff, for not properly training deputies on how to interact with people with mental illness.

In all, the suit alleges six counts: excessive force, denial of medical attention, municipal liability, failure to train and supervise, a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, negligence, and assault and battery. It asks the court to award Sper’s estate, run by his father David Sper, compensation for damages and attorney fees, though it doesn’t list a specific dollar amount.

The use of deadly force was ruled justified by the Kent County prosecutor in March 2017. Prosecutor Chris Becker said Wiersma was trying to protect Sper’s brother and that he had reason to believe Sper posed a threat.

Kent County has since instituted training to teach deputies how to de-escalate situations involving people experiencing a mental health crisis.

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