GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Kent County prosecutor decided not to charge a sheriff’s deputy who opened fire at the scene of a car crash in March because the deputy mistook the sound of a utility pole breaking as gunfire.
The deputy and his partner responded to the crash on 36th Street near Patterson Avenue in Cascade Township in the early hours of March 18. An SUV had hit a power pole.
Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said at a Tuesday news conference that as the deputies sat in their cruiser, doing paperwork and awaiting a tow truck, the utility pole started to fall and made a popping noise that Becker said “sound(ed) remarkably similar” to gunfire.
Becker said the deputy thought someone was shooting at his partner. In response, the deputy fired two shots at the driver of the crashed car, who had been sitting in the grass farther down the street and started running when he heard the pole snap.
Neither of the shots hit anyone. The driver, a 51-year-old Grand Rapids man, was not hurt.
The deputy reported over his radio he had opened fire.
“Almost immediately after the call went out, you can hear (the deputy’s partner) state, ‘What? Shots fired?'” the prosecutor’s written decision recounts. “(The deputy) then says, ‘I thought I heard gunshots.’ (The deputy’s partner) responded, ‘No, you heard the pole snapping. Get out of the way.'”
The prosecutor said it’s unknown where the bullets ultimately impacted — they weren’t recovered.
“It’s a mistake. The law allows for a mistake to occur,” Becker said at the news conference.
He said it was reasonable for the deputy to respond to what he thought was gunfire.
“It’s not unreasonable for this officer to hear the snapping … and make that assumption that, ‘Gee, somebody’s shooting at me,’ to return fire,” Becker said. “You have the right to use deadly force to defend yourself if it’s honest and reasonable and you feel that to protect yourself, you need to use deadly force.”
In a Tuesday statement, the Kent County Sheriff’s office said it is now going to launch an internal investigation. It said it will “evaluate if there are any training or policy implications.”
“(The deputy) was hired in January of 2022 and was working in the context of a field training environment as a new patrol deputy. This is a difficult circumstance for any deputy and we are ensuring (the deputy) has support from the Employee Assistance Program and coworkers,” the sheriff’s office said.
The deputy previously worked for another agency but was training with the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. News 8 is not using his name because he will not face charges.