EATON RAPIDS, MI – On November 28, 2017, the Eaton County Sheriffs Department had an Officer Involved Shooting (OIS) which resulted in the death of Robert Claude Smith (hereafter Smith). Eaton County Sheriff’s Office requested the Michigan State Police to investigate the incident. They arrived on the scene and began a thorough and independent investigation of this matter.
The investigation was led by Detective First Lieutenant Tom DeClercq and Detective Sergeant Scott Singleton. The investigative reports and accompanying evidentiary materials were submitted to the Ingham County Prosecutor’s Office for an independent review to determine if criminal charges should be sought against Deputy Stopczynski and/or Detective Gardner. This request was at the direction of the Michigan Attorney General’s Office due to the Eaton County Prosecutor’s Office having a conflict of interest.
The investigation led by D/F/Lt. Declercq and D/Sgt. Singleton involved extensive interviews with police officers of the Eaton County Sheriffs Department, and the review and analysis of the body camera footage, in car camera recording, radio traffic and laboratory results.
On November 26, 2017 at approximately 6:45 PM, DNR officer Todd Thorn was on routine patrol in Brookfield Township when he conducted a traffic stop. The traffic stop was due to observing a vehicle driving at a slow rate of speed and failing to use a turn signal in violation of state law. The driver, Robert Claude Smith was intoxicated and was subsequently arrested. At the time of the stop a .357 revolver was found in another vehicle owned by Smith. Smith was placed under arrest and was transported to Hayes Green Beach Hospital for a blood draw. Another DNR officer was present for the blood draw. At that time Smith told the officer that he would not be afraid to commit gun violence similar to what has been on the news recently and among other statements he had nothing to lose. Smith was lodged in the Eaton County jail on a charge of Operating While Intoxicated (OWi). Smith was re.leased on an interim bond.
On November 28, 2017, the Eaton County Prosecutor’s Office issued a 4 count Felony warrant for Smith. Charges included Felon in Possession of a Firearm, OWi and Possession of Marijuana and Open Intoxicants. Also the Eaton County Prosecutor’s office reviewed a search warrant for Smith’s residence because they believed there was probable cause to believe that there may be more weapons and ammunition inside the residence which Smith was not allowed to possess due to his felony record. The arrest warrant andsearch warrant were authorized by Ken Knowlton, Magistrate for the Eaton County District Court.
While deputies were being briefed to execute the search and arrest warrant, Deputy Stopczynski and Detective Gardner were assigned to conduct surveillance at the house to be searched. Both officers were aware of the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Smith on November 261h and the authorization of a felony arrest warrant and search
Deputy Stopczynski was in full uniform and in a marked patrol car and Detective Gardner was in plain clothes in an unmarked vehicle. During the course of their surveillance, Smith left the residence in a pickup truck. Knowing that there was a felony warrant for his arrest, Deputy Stopczynski followed with Detective Gardner behind him. After overhead lights were activated, Smith did not stop.
During the course of attempting to stop the vehicle, Smith turned his vehicle around to face Deputy Stopczynski’s vehicle. Detective Gardner was behind Deputy Stopczynski at this time. Deputy Stopcynski comes to a stop and gets out of his vehicle. He gives clear loud verbal commands to Smith to shut the car off. He does this 3 times and after the 2nd time Smith screams back to the Deputy “Shoot my ass”. Smith fails to obey the lawful commands of the officer. At this point Smith puts his vehicle in reverse and backs his vehicle up. He then accelerates and drives directly at Deputy Stopczynski and Detective Gardner. Deputy Stopczynski maneuvers around his car because he sees that Smith is driving directly at him in an attempt to hit him and his vehicle. Detective Gardner is behind Deputy Stopczynski. As Deputy Stopczynski maneuvers around the vehicle, he discharges his weapon. Smith rams his car directly into Deputy Stopczynski’s patrol vehicle. His patrol vehicle then hits Detective Gardner’s vehicle causing Detective Gardner to be thrown backwards into a ditch causing injury to Detective Gardner. Detective Gardner comes to his knees and then discharges his gun. Smith’s vehicle is stopped at this point but the wheels are spinning. Based on the body camera footage it is unclear at this point the condition of Smith and it is unknown if any weapons are in the vehicle. Deputy Stopczynski sees that Gardner is down and informs Deputy Stopczynski that he was hit by his own vehicle when the impact occurred.
Both officers discharged their weapons during the incident and based on the investigation and the laboratory analysis of both weapons, it is unclear which officer fired the fatal shot. Reviewing the Michigan State Lab Reports, Deputy Stopcynski fired 8 shots and Detective Gardner fired 8 shots all at Smith’s vehicle. The defendant is pronounced dead at the scene. The autopsy report indicates the cause of death is a single gunshot to the head. The autopsy report also determines that Smith had a blood alcohol level of .19 and had marijuana and anti-depressants in his system. Based on my review, it appears that Deputy Stopcynski fired the fatal shot. I base that on the body camera footage and the autopsy report finding that Smith died from a single gunshot wound to his head entering on his left side and exiting on the right side.
The police have the right to use the force reasonable under the circumstances to effectuate an arrest. The police may also take what action is reasonable to protect themselves, and other officers, in the course of an arrest or attempted arrest. Delude v Raasakka, 391 Mich296 (1974). The Eaton County Sheriffs Department’s Manual and Procedures regarding the Use of Force states that officers may use deadly force to protect him/herself or others from what he/she reasonably believes would be an imminent threat of death or serious bodily injury. The manual goes on to state that a deputy should only discharge a firearm at a moving vehicle or its occupants when the deputy reasonably believes there are no other reasonable means available to avert the threat of the vehicle, or if deadly force other than the vehicle is directed at the deputy or others.
Based on the foregoing, I conclude that Deputy Stopczynski and Detective Gardner acted reasonably when they used deadly force against Smith in order to defend themselves against a reasonable threat of death and/or serious bodily injury perpetrated by Smith. Clearly based on a review of the police reports and the body camera footage, there was no other reasonable means to avert the threat of Smith and his vehicle. As such, no criminal charges will be pursued against either officer.
Chief Assistant Prosecutor