Traverse City Record-Eagle

June 27, 2013

Prosecutor: Officers justified in Dec. 11 shooting

BY MATT TROUTMAN mtroutman@record-eagle.com
Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Three law enforcement officers justifiably used deadly force against an armed Oscoda man who led authorities on a high-speed pursuit through three counties before a standoff in Traverse City.

Grand Traverse County Prosecutor Bob Cooney on Wednesday released his finding that Traverse City Police officer Mark Witczak, 42, and Crawford County sheriff’s deputies Michael Jacobi, 55, and Matthew Swope, 26, acted in lawful self-defense on Dec. 11. The three shot and killed Gary Michael Welch, 56, after he pointed a rifle in their direction.

“They all fired pretty much simultaneously,” Cooney said. “It was the unequivocal and un-contradicted testimony that all officers were faced with a gun and the defendant had his right hand near the trigger mechanism.”

Michigan State Police Lt. David Street coordinated the shooting investigation.

“It’s an unfortunate occurrence, quite frankly, because there a lot of victims involved in this,” Street said.

The state police report details Welch’s substance abuse and mental health problems in the months before he died. His family reported his behavior became increasingly threatening and they were avoiding contact with him.

Authorities on Dec. 11 pursued Welch from an attempted traffic stop in Crawford County through Kalkaska County and into Grand Traverse County. His truck reached speeds between 100 and 110 mph and sometimes veered into the path of police vehicles. Cooney said Swope’s in-car camera captured most of the chase, though not the shooting.

The chase ended with a confrontation on the front lawn of Welch’s daughter’s Barlow Street house, where officers repeatedly ordered him to drop a rifle. Witnesses said Welch pointed the weapon in a “military style” at all three officers, who fired their weapons nearly simultaneously. The report states examination of a chambered round in the rifle found it had been struck by a firing pin, but failed to fire. Toxicology showed Welch had a blood alcohol level of .19 percent.

Traverse City Police Capt. Brian Heffner said he could not comment until he read the report. Crawford County sheriff’s officials could not be reached for comment.

Cooney said the event was a “tragedy all around.”

“This was obviously a very tragic event,” he said. “My condolences go out to the family of Mr. Welch, who was a (military) veteran. He had obviously been dealing with some significant mental health and substance abuse issues.”