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‘Felony murder’ statute comes into play in recent officer-involved shooting

Patty Murray

Wisconsin Public Radio

Two officer-involved shootings in northeastern Wisconsin are raising questions about a murder statute. Wisconsin has a so-called "felony murder" statute that lets someone be prosecuted even if he or she didn't kill the victim.

The first officer-involved shooting occurred in December 2015 when Michael Funk was shot and killed by police during a standoff at the Eagle Nation Cycles motorcycle shop in Neenah.

Funk and two others were being held hostage by gunman Brian Flatoff. When Funk escaped, police officers Craig Hoffer and Robert Ross shot and killed him.

A similar incident occurred in May 2017 at Jack’s Apple Pub in Appleton. 

In what Appleton Police Chief Todd Thomas called an "extremely dynamic and chaotic situation," Lt. Jay Steinke fatally shot Jimmie Montel Sanders at Jack’s Apple Pub. 

Steinke was responding to the report of gunfire and shot the first man he saw with a gun. That man was later identified as Sanders.

But the original police call was in response to another shooting during a fight in the pub between two men, 33-year-old Henry Nellum being one of them.

Nellum is now facing homicide charges for the death of Sanders, even though Steinke is the one who shot and killed Sanders. But under Wisconsin's felony murder statute someone who instigates a potentially fatal incident can be charged. 

At a news conference on June 2, Outagamie County District Attorney Carrie Schneider said Steinke was justified and wouldn’t face penalties.

"When you have that situation of someone engaging in an offense and as a result someone dies they can be charged under the felony murder statute," Schneider said. Schneider now serves as an Outagamie County circuit court judge.

That statute didn’t sit well with Sanders’ sisters. 

At the time, one of them, Christine Thomas, told reporters that Nellum shouldn’t be the one being charged.

"He wasn’t the one that murdered my brother," Thomas said.

Thomas said officer Steinke should be the one going before the judge.

"I will stress this over and over and over: they want society to believe this cop did his job," Thomas said, pointing out that Steinke had more than 20 years of service on the police force. "You’re a veteran and you went in and shot him in the face? He (Sanders) was shot twice. If he was innocent, that’s not doing your job."

This summer Sanders' family said they were looking into pursuing a federal case over his death.

The family's attorney wasn’t available for an interview, and calls regarding the felony murder statute weren’t returned by the Wisconsin Department of Justice by deadline.

Wisconsin Public Radio, © Copyright 2017, Board of Regents of the University of Wisconsin System and Wisconsin Educational Communications Board. Find more WPR news on KUWS-FM 91.3 or wpr.org.

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