Officers cleared, suspect charged in Superior shooting
Three Superior police officers were legally cleared while the man they shot and injured was charged with five crimes.
Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said Tuesday that officers were justified in using deadly force against 19-year-old Joshua Michael Farmer after he threatened to kill them, ignored their commands and produced a wrench that he claimed was a gun on Oct. 5 in the city’s Central Park neighborhood.
Wright reviewed the case, which was led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, at the request of Douglas County District Mark Fruehauf.
In releasing Wright’s decision, Fruehauf said he was charging Farmer with three felony counts of threatening a law enforcement officer with a dangerous weapon, as well as misdemeanor counts of obstructing an officer and retail theft. A warrant was issued for his arrest Tuesday.
Farmer was shot by officers George Gothner, Michael Kendall and Christopher Woolery during a confrontation on the 300 block of East Ninth Street. Farmer, who had been identified as a suspect in a nearby shoplifting incident, suffered non-life-threatening injuries when he was struck by six of their 31 combined shots.
Documents released Tuesday indicate that Farmer sought to be killed by officers that day, stealing an alcoholic beverage from a business before threatening officers with what he later described as a “fake gun.”
“The information gathered in the investigatory file leads to only one conclusion,” Wright wrote in a seven-page memorandum. “(Officers) acted in self-defense to protect themselves and their fellow officers from what they reasonably believed was an actual and imminent threat of death or great bodily harm they faced if Mr. Farmer carried through on his threat that he had a gun and that either he or they were going to die.”
Wright said squad and body camera videos corroborated the incident as described by the officers.
The videos and other investigative material was not immediately released. Citing the pending case against Farmer, DOJ spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg told the News Tribune that her agency needed to review which records could be released in accordance with state pretrial publicity guidelines.
According to Wright’s report and the criminal complaint against Farmer:
Woolery responded to the Dollar General store, 216 Belknap St., on a shoplifting report just after 11 a.m. A manager reported that a man wearing a dark shirt with a hoodie had left the store and was holding an alcoholic drink.
Woolery found a suspect matching the description in the residential area behind the store and activated his body camera. The man, later identified as Farmer, began staring at the officer. Farmer was holding a can of alcohol and had his left hand in his pocket.
Woolery approached Farmer, who immediately said something like, “I’m not going to do it,” or, “This isn’t going to happen.” Farmer refused to answer questions about the theft or take his hand out of his pocket, prompting the officer to radio for backup.
Woolery drew his pistol and took cover behind his squad car. Both Kendall and Gothner arrived on scene, also activating their body cameras and drawing their weapons.
Officers again ordered Farmer to take his hand out of his pocket, but he refused, saying he wasn’t going to be arrested. He continued to sip from his beverage and added, “You know what is going to happen.”
Asked what he had in his pocket, Farmer replied, “You know what I got.” Asked if it was a gun, he said yes.
“Mr. Farmer told the officers that he was going to shoot them or they were going to shoot him,” Wright reported. “One of the officers asked Mr. Farmer why he wanted to die and Mr. Farmer said he was not going back to jail.”
Farmer then said, “Sorry to ruin your day, guys,” and turned toward Woolery. He made a “rapid movement” with his left hand, pulling a metal object from his pocket. Farmer had one finger pointed toward the front of the object and another in a rear position, “like he had a gun.” He then pointed the object at officers.
All three officers, reporting they feared for their lives, opened fire. Farmer initially remained on his feet and began moving toward the officers. Kendall again fired his weapon, dropping Farmer to the ground. The officers said he again raised the object from a sitting position, prompting the three to fire additional shots, finally knocking him flat to the ground.
Realizing Farmer did not actually have a gun, the officers began life-saving measures. Farmer remained alert, telling officers to stop performing care and let him die. An eight-inch adjustable wrench was found at the scene.
Farmer was treated at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth for wounds to his face, left chest, right elbow, right thigh, left calf and both feet. It was determined that Gothner fired 15 rounds, Kendall fired 13 shots and Woolery fired three times.
At the hospital, Farmer said he intentionally stole the beer, drank it and was waiting for police to come. He recalled ignoring police commands and pulling out a wrench, which he described as a “fake gun.” A search of his phone also found that he had been researching suicide methods.
Wright said the conduct of the officers was “professional and clearly intended to try and resolve the incident without injury to Mr. Farmer.”
“The officers had no reasonable opportunity to use other alternatives,” he wrote. “They were faced with a man who insisted he had a gun and was going to use it.”