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RE: June 1, 2011 shooting death of Matthew John Speese FACTS On Wednesday June 1, 2011 at approximately 5:45pm, Montcalm County Central Dispatch received a call from the Veterans Crisis Line indicating they had just talked to an individual, identified as Matthew Speese, was threatening to kill himself and that he would shoot police officers if they responded. The Veterans Crisis Line caller was asking that a police officer check the well being of Matthew Speese who lived at 20585 Gates Rd., Reynolds Township, Montcalm County, Michigan. Michigan Police State Troopers Delyn Rice and Corey Zimmerman were the first officers to arrive at the above residence. Howard City Police Chief Steve DeWitt and Officer Queen arrived moments later. As Trooper Rice drove into the driveway, she heard from Central Dispatch that Speese did not want cops responding and would shoot them. While still 80-100 yards from the residence she saw a subject, later identified as Speese, come out onto the porch with a long gun. She attempted to make contact with Speese by the PA system in her car. Speese did not respond. Trooper Rice then relayed information to MSP Regional Dispatch that there was a barricaded gunman situation. More officers responded. A perimeter was set up with Troopers Rice and Zimmerman on the north side of the residence, Trooper Jason Medler and Deputy Clay Thomas on the west side of the residence and Chief DeWitt and Officer McQueen on the east side of the residence. All of these officers were aware that Speese had threatened to shoot any cop he saw and that he had threatened suicide while on the phone with the VA Crisis Line. Troopers Rice and Zimmerman had moved back towards the road once they saw Speese come out with the long gun and had learned that he would shoot any cop that was there. Because they moved back and because the driveway doglegged to the left they could no longer see the residence. All information between officers was being relayed via both state and county radios. Trooper Gary Wilson, a trained negotiator with the State Police, did make contact with Speese via phone. Wilson indicated that Speese was very belligerent. Speese advised “it will be dark soon and I have my camo on, I’m going to be hunting cops soon, and no one
knows these woods like I do.” He also said he was “a real Marine, not a 4 year Marine in basic training.” Trooper Wilson tried to ascertain who was in the residence at the time but Speese would not advise if he was alone or with anyone. He said “that’s right, you don’t know if I’m alone or not.” Speese also advised he had “a bead on everyone” and the cops were just a bunch of “twelve dollar an hour bitches.” Speese stated the cops were the enemy because they started it and when advised that he had called them, Speese said it didn’t matter. Central Dispatch also contacted Speese via phone. When they asked him to exit his residence unarmed he refused to do so. Chief DeWitt had been told by Central Dispatch via the Veterans Crisis Line that Speese had said if any cops show up he would shoot them in the eyes. Upon his arrival he saw Speese come out of the residence onto the front porch and he started yelling and screaming in his direction. He heard Speese say he had a high powered rifle and he was going to shoot them. Speese then retreated into the residence. While still in the driveway Chief DeWitt noticed a second story window open and an object protrude out that appeared to be a gun. At that same time he heard via radio from Central Dispatch that Speese was on the phone with Dispatch and told them he had “a superior firing position on them and was going to shoot us (police).” He was very agitated. Trooper Rice continued to try and communicate with Speese via the PA system telling him that they were not there to hurt him and to come out unarmed to talk. To appease Speese Trooper Rice did move the patrol car further away from the residence. Chief DeWitt then did set up perimeter on the east side of the residence keeping an eye on the front door. The area around the residence was much wooded and the residence was set back off the road approximately 150 yards. Chief DeWitt did see Speese on at least two occasions come to the front door and start yelling threats that he was going to start shooting the police. Central Dispatch then advised that Speese would only talk to the Howard City Police Chief. Chief DeWitt advised Central Dispatch to tell him that he would talk to him but he has to come out of the residence unarmed. That they were not there to arrest him or hurt him. Speese failed to comply. After approximately 1 ½ hours from the time of the original call, Chief DeWitt saw Speese exit the residence, and not running but marching very purposefully like he was on a mission, down the driveway in the direction of Troopers Rice and Zimmerman. He had what looked like an assault rifle in his hands and was holding it at waist level pointed straight ahead down the driveway. He was yelling something about shooting the cops. Chief DeWitt starting yelling “Police Officer, drop your gun! Drop your gun! Drop your gun!” Chief DeWitt repeatedly yelled for Speese to drop his gun; however Speese kept marching down the driveway toward the other officers who could not see Speese or hear what was going on. Speese did look at Chief DeWitt who kept repeating his commands to drop the gun, but Speese did not stop and kept walking with gun held in both hands leveled waist high. Chief DeWitt based on his observations and training and experience knew what Speese was going to do based on Speese’s demeanor. Chief DeWitt also
realized that he would soon lose sight of Speese due to the narrowing of the driveway and heavy wooded coverage on both sides, so he fired one round at Speese from his department issued .223 rifle. It is unclear whether that round hit Speese or not. Speese immediately took cover behind a tree with his rifle now pointed in the direction of Chief DeWitt. Chief DeWitt continued to yell at Speese. He said “Matthew. It doesn’t have to be like this. We’re not here to hurt you. Just put the gun down.” Speese replied “I’m not going to put the fucking gun down. I’m not going to put the fucking gun down.” He also started yelling about shooting or killing the police again. He then leveled the gun from around the tree toward Chief DeWitt. At this time Deputy Thomas had made his way to the southwest corner of a pole building that was just north of the residence. He saw Speese crouched down behind the tree with his long gun pointed in the direction of Chief DeWitt. Deputy Thomas immediately shouted “Sheriff’s Department, drop the weapon.” Deputy Thomas was approximately 40 feet away from Speese at this time. Speese dropped his head and said “Oh fuck it.” In one quick motion Speese stood up turning toward Deputy Thomas and threw his long gun toward Deputy Thomas and then began to reach toward his waistband. Deputy Thomas saw a silver and black object in Speese’s left hand which he believed to be a weapon. Speese continued to reach toward his waistband and Deputy Thomas thought he was reaching for another weapon. In fear for his life Deputy Thomas fired once from his AR 15, departmental issued rifle. Speese continued to reach for his waistband so Deputy Thomas fired two additional rounds. Speese then fell to the ground. Deputy Thomas heard Chief DeWitt yell that Speese had a handgun as well. Chief DeWitt also fired two additional shots toward Speese after he saw Speese stand up and point the long gun at the other officer. Speese while down on the ground continued to have his right hand near his waistband. Both Chief DeWitt and Deputy Thomas commanded Speese several times to take his right hand away from his side. He was alive but would not comply. Several more Officers approached Speese while he was down on the ground. An object was removed from his hand that turned out to be a large Gerber black and silver folding knife. The long gun that Speese had been carrying was a black .22 caliber/.410 gauge over/under rifle/shotgun. It was fully loaded with two live rounds, one .22 caliber and the other was a .410 slug. In the butt of the gun were additional live rounds of .22 caliber rounds and . 410 slugs. EMS, who had staged nearby, was called to the scene and Speese was transported to Spectrum Health Butterworth where he was pronounced dead. Dr. Stephen Cohle performed an autopsy at Specrtum-Blodgett on June 2, 2011. He concluded that Speese died as a result of the gunshot would to the left side of his head. Other items to note: Matthew Speese had a past history of having suicidal tendencies. His family reported that when he came back from the Gulf War he was never the same.
Just last year Speese had an incident in Mecosta County where he became very irrational while camping. At that time he mentioned killing himself and going out by suicide by cop. He spent time at the VA hospital. In addition, upon search of the residence police found several loaded long guns that were placed in accessible locations throughout the residence. LEGAL ANALYSIS The rule of self-defense is well established in Michigan law. “As a general rule, the killing of another person in self-defense by one who is free from fault is justifiable homicide if, under all the circumstances, he honestly and reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm and that it is necessary for him to exercise deadly force.” People v Riddle, 467 Mich 116, 119 (2002). The use of deadly force in self-defense is justified where the actor (1) is not the aggressor, (2) acts under an honest and reasonable belief that he is in danger of death or great bodily harm, (3) retreats from the scene if possible, and (4) the only recourse lay in repelling the attack by the use of deadly force. People v Heflin, 434 Mich 482, 502-503 (1990). In Riddle, the Supreme Court clarified that “a person is never required to retreat from a sudden, fierce and violent attack; nor is he required to retreat from an attacker who he reasonably believes is about to use a deadly weapon.” A police officer, because of his duty and responsibility to protect the public, is not required to retreat in the face of a display of force. People v Doss, 406 Mich 90, 102 (1979). Heflin, Riddle and Doss notwithstanding, the Self-Defense Act of 2006 abrogated the duty to retreat under most circumstances: “an individual who is not engaged in the commission of a crime at the time he uses deadly force may use deadly force against another individual anywhere he has the legal right to be with no duty to retreat if…the individual honestly and reasonably believes that the use of deadly force is necessary to prevent the imminent death of or imminent great bodily harm to himself or another individual…” Even under the Self-Defense Act, self-defense is not justified simply on a belief that deadly force is needed to repel an attack. Rather, the actor’s belief must be both honest and reasonable. People v Heflin, supra. The belief does not, however, have to be correct. Self-defense justifies the use of deadly force in response to an honest and reasonable belief that such force is required to prevent death or great bodily harm, even if that belief is in error. People v Shelton, 64 Mich App 154 (1975).
CONCLUSION As is the case in any fatal shooting, it is important to emphasize the purpose of this review. It is not to determine whether the police officers could have or might have done something differently. It is not whether, with the full benefit of hindsight, this tragic death could have been avoided. Rather, the sole question to be answered is whether the death of Matthew Speese was the result of a criminal act? Based upon a review of the facts and the law, it is clear that Mr. Speese presented an immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to Deputy Thomas and/or Chief DeWitt and/or the officers at the end of the driveway. As such both Deputy Thomas and Chief DeWitt acted properly in self-defense. Speese, who did not comply with numerous commands to drop his gun, who looked like a man on a mission to shoot cops, who had made statements that he would hunt cops, who when confronted head on by Deputy Thomas said “Oh Fuck it” and went for his waistband, was an immediate threat to anyone nearby. Rather than comply with police commands, Speese escalated the situation by continuing to be actively aggressive even when face to face with the barrel of Deputy Thomas’ rifle. Even when down on the ground he still refused to take his hand away from his waistband where another potential weapon was stored. Under these circumstances, Deputy Thomas and Chief DeWitt were justified in using deadly force against what would be perceived by any reasonable person as an imminent danger of death or great bodily harm. Deputy Clayton Thomas is a ten year veteran of law enforcement, five of those years with the Montcalm County Sheriff’s Department. Chief Steve DeWitt is a twenty-one year veteran of law enforcement.
____________________________ Andrea S. Krause Montcalm County Prosecuting Attorney
Contact information: Andrea Krause 989-831-7326
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