The special prosecutor investigating the fatal police shooting of a 14-year-old member of the Bad River Reservation in Wisconsin has declined to bring charges against the Ashland County sheriff's deputy involved in the shooting.
The teen, eighth grader Jason Pero, was shot twice in the chest by Ashland County Sheriff's Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich after leaving school on the morning of Nov. 8. The shooting exposed deep racial tensions between members of the Bad River Reservation and the sheriff’s department, which under federal law has jurisdiction over the tribe’s lands, and prompted tribal officials to call for a federal civil rights investigation into the incident.
In a letter sent to the Wisconsin Department of Justice Friday evening, St. Croix County District Attorney Mike Nieskes, who had been tapped as a special prosecutor in the case, said that after reviewing findings by state and local investigators, he had determined that the use of deadly force was justified.
"I've completed my review and determined that the deputy's actions through the use of deadly force in this situation were justified by circumstances he found himself in and that there is no criminal liability for the death of the juvenile Jason Ike Pero," Nieskes said in a statement.
Ashland County sheriff's officials said Friday that Mrdjenovich remains employed with the department, but will continue to be assigned to "limited administrative duties until all internal reviews have been completed."
State officials also released hundreds of pages of documents Friday relating to the case, including summaries of a 911 call in which the state says Pero identified himself by name as the caller and provided a description of himself, as well as a summary of an interview with Mrdjenovich.
According to the documents, Mrdjenovich told investigators that after arriving at the scene, Pero refused multiple commands to drop a knife he was carrying and that the teenager began advancing on him. Mrdjenovich said that although he retreated several times, Pero continued to follow him, leaving the deputy “scared” for his own safety.
Mrdjenovich alleged that after Pero was shot, the teen told the officer “I just wanted to die.”
State officials also claimed that during a search of the Pero residence after the shooting they recovered a note in the teen's bedroom that said, “I love you all. I’m sorry sty happy love Jason [sic].”
Pero’s family could not be immediately reached for comment, and Bad River Reservation Chairman Mike Wiggins did not respond to a request for comment.
In the months since Pero's death, however, his friends and relatives have taken issue with the state investigators' portrayal of him as a despondent and aggressive. youth, and have repeatedly questioned whether Mrdjenovich, who had been on the force since March 2017, responded appropriately. In response to the shooting, the tribal council has also begun a review of its relationship with the Ashland County sheriff’s office.
The department acknowledged those issues in a statement on Nieskes' announcement Friday.
“The Sheriff’s Office is also deeply aware of the ways in which this incident has impacted the Bad River community and its relationship with law enforcement," the statement said. "We are dedicated to rebuilding and restoring trust and a working relationship with the community at all levels through continued community policing, officer education and training, and proactive involvement with all citizens of Ashland County."
But the decision is not likely to ease tensions between the tribe and local law enforcement. On Saturday, protesters partially impeded traffic on the highway leading into Ashland from the reservation for several hours.
John Stanton is a national reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New Orleans. In 2014, Stanton was a recipient of the National Press Foundation’s 2014 Dirksen Award for distinguished reporting of Congress.
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