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Willmar officers remain on leave during shooting investigation

Jake Schultz / Tribune file photo Two Willmar Police Department officers who fired their guns July 23 when responding to a report of a suicidal male holding a gun remain on leave while the investigation is underway. Willmar Police Chief Jim Felt said he expects Officer Marco Vazquez and Officer Anthony Haycraft to return to duty soon. Matthew David Smith, 46, of Willmar, remains hospitalized at St. Cloud Hospital, but he is no longer in the intensive care unit and is no longer intubated.

WILLMAR — Two Willmar Police Department officers are still on paid administrative leave while the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension continues its investigation into an officer-involved shooting last month that injured a individual reported to be suicidal and holding a gun.

Chief Jim Felt said Friday he expects the officers, Marco Vazquez and Anthony Haycraft, to be called back to work "soon."

Felt said the officers were placed on leave so that they could be available for the BCA, which is investigating the case.

According to a news release, the state agency acts an an independent fact-finder and will turn its findings over to the Kandiyohi County Attorney's Office for review "without recommendations" when the investigation is complete.

Felt said it was also important for the officers to take the time they need to recover from the "traumatic" event.

He said officers train for these types of situations but said he can "only imagine" the emotional effects on officers when it happens for real.

The officers have been on leave since the shooting July 23 when they fired their guns after encountering Matthew David Smith, 46, in the backyard at a residence at 410 11th St. N.W. in Willmar.

The officers were responding to a 911 call about a suicidal male.

According to an earlier report from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Smith was holding a gun when the officers arrived on the scene and at some point both officers fired their weapons, injuring Smith.

Felt said Smith is still in the St. Cloud Hospital but is no longer in the intensive care unit and is no longer intubated.

Felt said the department's three school resource officers do not work for the schools in the summer and are helping to fill the gap created by having Vazquez and Haycraft absent from the force during their administrative leave.

Felt said he's in regular contact with the two officers and hopes to have them back on the job soon.

Vazquez has been with the Willmar Police Department for three years and Haycraft has been with the department for one year and has also worked for the Lower Sioux Police Department for two years.

Felt said the community support for the Willmar Police Department in general, and following this shooting incident, has been positive.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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