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Charges filed against man shot by Willmar police

WILLMAR — A suicidal man who allegedly pointed a handgun at two Willmar police officers last summer — and was subsequently shot and wounded by the officers — was charged Tuesday with three felonies.

Matthew David Smith, 45, of Willmar, was charged with two counts of second degree assault — fear, and one count of threats of violence.

The Kandiyohi County Attorney's office filed the charges against Smith this week after reviewing reports, including an investigation of the officer-involved shooting conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

Before making his first court appearance Tuesday morning, Smith was brought into the courtroom in a wheelchair and clutching a cane, reportedly the result of injuries from the shooting.

County Attorney Shane Baker said the police officers' actions to shoot Smith were justified and there will be no charges filed against Willmar police officers Anthony Haycraft and Marco Vazquez.

"I reviewed the case and declined charges against the two officers," Baker said in an email.

Baker said state law does not allow peace officers to be charged for using deadly force in the line of duty unless it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of deadly force was not justified.

Baker said that the officers' use of deadly force "was justified" in this case.

According to the complaint, Smith pointed a gun at Vazquez and Haycraft and both were in fear of their lives and thought Smith was going to shoot and kill them.

The charges stem from a July 23 incident in Smith's backyard when police were dispatched to Smith's home, at 410 11th St. N.W., on a report that an intoxicated man was acting suicidal.

At around 5:22 p.m. that day, Smith's wife called police to report that her husband, who had been drinking, had a handgun and "wanted her to watch him blow his head off," according to the police report in the court documents.

Haycraft and Vazquez arrived at Smith's home in separate squad cars at about 5:25 p.m.

They approached Smith, who was sitting in a lawn chair in his backyard, and the situation quickly escalated.

According to the police report, from the first warning officers gave to Smith to drop the gun to the first shot being fired, about four seconds elapsed.

Neither officer had a body camera — Willmar is implementing their usage this year — but Haycraft had an audio microphone that captured the incident, with a transcript included in the complaint.

At 5:26:03 Haycraft started speaking with Smith saying, "Excuse me sir."

At 5:26:06 Haycraft ordered Smith to "drop the gun."

The order was repeated three more times before the first shot was fired at 5:26:10.

According to the complaint, Vasquez fired two shots from his service revolver and Haycraft fired one shot.

Smith was struck in the upper part of his left leg.

After handcuffing Smith and removing the .25-caliber Raven Arms gun he had allegedly pointed at them, the officers administered first aid, including applying a tourniquet, before emergency medical crews arrived.

Saying that Smith was a "significant public safety risk" because he pointed a gun at two police officers, has a history of alcohol use — Smith had a blood-alcohol concentration of 0.279 following the shooting — and mental health issues, Assistant Kandiyohi County Attorney Kristen Pierce asked bail to be set at $50,000.

"These are significant charges and they carry significant consequences," Pierce said told Judge Michael Thompson.

Public defender Carter Greiner acknowledged the seriousness of the charges but said Smith is not a public safety concern and has been "cooperating fully" with authorities.

Smith "hasn't had a drop to drink" since July, Greiner said.

Because of the injuries from the shooting, Greiner said Smith is unable to work and unable to pay a high bail. Greiner also said it would be difficult for the county jail to meet Smith's complicated medical needs.

Thompson set unconditional bail at $25,000 and released Smith on his personal recognizance if he met certain conditions, including random testing and forfeiting all weapons.

His next court appearance is April 18.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for 35 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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