The University Record, October 15, 1997

Officer 'justified' in use of deadly force

By Jane R. Elgass

The Department of Public Safety (DPS) officer who shot and killed Kevin Nelson on Sept. 23 "was clearly justified in using deadly force in this tragic case," according to a ruling by Washtenaw County Prosecuting Attorney Brian L. Mackie. Mackie stated the one-sentence opinion in an Oct. 1 letter to DPS Director Leo J. Heatley.

Nelson was killed while assaulting Tamara Williams with a knife in a Family Housing parking lot on North Campus. Both Williams, who had multiple stab wounds, and Nelson died in surgery at University Hospital.

Several times the DPS officer ordered Nelson to stop and was ignored. When Nelson moved to again stab Williams, the officer fired two shots, one of which was fatal. Witnesses at the scene, some of whom also attempted to stop Nelson, gave the same acc ounting of the incident as did the officer in his report.

"The officer followed departmental policies and procedures, using his training to make a quick decision," said DPS Director Leo J. Heatley, adding that "as a department, DPS very much appreciates the University community for its outpouring of support f or the officer and his family. The officer has been returned to regular, scheduled assignments."

A report from Chief Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Joseph F. Burke that accompanied Mackie's letter referred to a Supreme Court ruling on deadly force that states, in part:

"'Where the officer has probable cause to believe that the suspect poses a threat of serious physical harm, either to the officer or to others, it is not constitutionally unreasonable to prevent escape by using deadly force. Thus, if the suspect threa tens the officer with a weapon or if there is probable cause to believe that he has committed a crime involving the infliction of serious physical harm, deadly force may be used if necessary to prevent escape, and if, where feasible, some warning has been given.'"

Burke said that in applying this legal reasoning to the case, "Nelson's homicide is patently justified. Nelson was a proven lethal threat to Tamara Williams."