TRAVERSE CITY — County officials said a federal jury vindicated a sheriff deputy’s actions in a 2007 standoff that ended with the shooting death of an Interlochen man.
The trial in Kalamazoo’s U.S. District Court ended a six-year legal battle that could have put Grand Traverse County on the hook for millions of dollars in liability. The estate of Craig Carlson, who was shot and killed Nov. 10, 2007 by Sgt. Charles Jetter after an 11-hour standoff, alleged excessive force and sought punitive damages.
Jurors took about two hours to find Jetter not liable in Carlson’s death.
“This cloud has been hanging over (Jetter’s) head for six years ... Unless you’re in his shoes you can’t describe his feelings, but it was obvious,” said Grand Traverse County Sheriff Tom Bensley.
Carlson family attorney Grant Parsons said he didn’t know whether there will be an appeal. He said the primary question before the jury was whether Jetter’s actions were reasonable.
“Could they have done something else other than kill him?” Parsons said.
The lawsuit alleged police mismanaged the incident. Authorities arrived on a report Carlson was behaving erratically and maintained Carlson leaned out a window and pointed an assault rifle at officers before he was shot. Parson disputed this account and said the fatal shot came after Carlson threatened to sue after his house was damaged in the hours-long standoff.
Grand Traverse County Commission Chairman Herb Lemcool said Jetter had the board’s full support from the “get-go.” Commissioners last year rejected a mediated settlement by an insurance carrier and effectively accepted the financial risk.
“We value our employees at Grand Traverse County and we’re just very pleased to support one of ours,” Lemcool said. “Personally, I feel it was a frivolous lawsuit. All evidence pointed that he did the right thing all along.”
Parsons said governmental rules excluded more evidence than was allowed into the trial, including a lethal force policy.
“At the end of the trial as I was doing my closing argument, the county attorney made motion to sanction, or fine me, to even mention this piece of evidence,” Parsons said. “It’s too bad especially in a civil rights action that the jury and the public only hear a very limited view of what happened here,” he said.
Defense attorney Christopher Cooke said Carlson’s death was unfortunate, but Jetter and police were justified in their actions.
“They did not want this to happen any more than anyone else did,” Cooke said. “They’re very sorry it happened, but did they everything by the law and served the people in the community.”