No charges sought against police officer in Alger County shooting

From Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matt Wiese:

Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney, Matt Wiese, was appointed as a special prosecutor by the Michigan Attorney General’s Office to review the evidence in the shooting death of Timothy Mitchell in Alger County on July 14, 2014. Mr. Mitchell died after being shot twice in the chest by Munising City Police Officer Justin Schlabach following a high speed chase of approximately 17 miles in and through the City of Munising to Buckhorn Road.

The Michigan State Police conducted a thorough investigation of the incident. According to the investigative reports Officer Schlabach responded to a call to be on the lookout for a vehicle driven by Mr. Mitchell heading from the Christmas area into the City of Munising. A caller reported to Alger County Dispatch that Mr. Mitchell was driving while intoxicated, that he was all over the road, that he had threatened the caller, and that he had been involved in a physical altercation with another individual.

Officer Schlabach initially made contact with Mr. Mitchell in the City of Munising and attempted to conduct a traffic stop. As shown by the in-car video of the incident Mr. Mitchell stopped briefly in response to Officer Schlabach’s direction and then fled the scene at a high rate of speed, driving through the City of Munising at speeds in excess of 50 miles per hour while disregarding stop signs. Officer Schlabach pursued Mr. Mitchell east out of Munising to the Wetmore area and then south on Highway 13 to Buckhorn Road at speeds exceeding 100 miles per hour. Officer Schlabach backed off and pursued at a safe distance. He ultimately came upon Mr. Mitchell after it appeared that Mr. Mitchell’s vehicle had run off the road.

The evidence shows that Officer Schlabach attempted to apprehend Mr. Mitchell as Mr. Mitchell got out of his vehicle. Officer Schlabach approached Mr. Mitchell with his service pistol drawn and repeatedly told Mr. Mitchell to get on the ground. Mr. Mitchell turned and advanced towards Officer Schlabach in an aggressive manner. Officer Schlabach back stepped to keep a safe distance between himself and Mr. Mitchell while repeatedly commanding Mr. Mitchell to stop and go down to the ground. According to Officer Schlabach Mr. Mitchell said as he continued toward the officer, “you’re going to have to f—ing shoot me.” It appears that Mr. Mitchell continued to aggressively approach Officer Schlabach despite repeated and numerous commands to stop. Officer Schlabach reported that he feared for his life and believed that Mr. Mitchell would do anything to get away, including taking his (Officer Schlabach’s) life.

Under Michigan law a person has the right to use force or even take a life to defend himself under certain circumstances. If a person acts in lawful self-defense, that person’s actions are justified and he is not guilty of murder. Officer Schlabach reported that he believed that he was in danger of being killed or seriously injured by Mr. Mitchell. Although he ultimately received back up from other Alger County law enforcement personnel, Officer Schlabach was the only law enforcement officer working the road in Alger County at the time of the incident. He was alone in a remote part of Alger County. Under the circumstances it appears that he was justified in his belief that he was in imminent danger and acted immediately to defend himself. Matt Wiese, the Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney, after a full review of the available evidence, has determined that this tragic incident resulting in the loss of life is not a criminal matter and no criminal charges will be authorized against Officer Schlabach.