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DA: Wisconsin officer cleared in fatal OIS of teen, says officer was acting in self-defense

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Adam Rogan
The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

Sgt. Eric Giese, a 12-year veteran of the Mount Pleasant Police Department, will not face criminal charges for the fatal June 15 shooting of 18-year-old Ty’ Rese West.

In her decision, Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson stated, “it is my opinion that Sergeant Giese’s actions in this case fall under the privilege of self-defense.”

Following a 10-minute meeting between West’s family and Hanson, Monique West, Ty’ Reses’s mother, announced Hanson’s decision not to charge Giese to a crowd gathered outside the Racine County Courthouse.

More than 300 people chanted outside the courthouse before, during and after the Wests met with Hanson. Chants included “No justice, no peace,” “What do we want? Justice!” And “What’s his name? Ty’ Rese!”

“We’re going to keep on fighting,” said West’s mother Monique West, who urged those gathered in support of the family on Wednesday night to vote Hanson out of office.

“You cannot justify two shots to the head,” she said.

Protesters held signs saying “All lives will matter when Black lives matter” and “Jesus was a victim of police brutality too.”

The anger in group was palpable, as they called for Hanson to be removed from office. Activist Tory Lowe said that he is going to start a campaign to have Hanson recalled.

The Racine Police Department handled the officer-involved shooting investigation, along with the Wisconsin Department of Justice. The Police Department referred its findings to the District Attorney’s Office on Aug. 2, and Hanson and her staff took more than 45 days to announce a decision.

The Journal Times requested to sit in on the meeting Wednesday between Hanson and the Wests, but that request was denied. However, in a press advisory announcing the pending release of the decision, the District Attorney’s Office extended condolences. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to the West family for their loss.”

Gun was on the ground

West was not holding a gun when he was fatally shot by Giese, although Giese told investigators that he believed West was reaching for a gun the 18-year-old had dropped during a foot pursuit, according Hanson’s decision, which was released to the public Wednesday evening.

Giese was wearing a body camera at the time, but had not turned it on, even though he told investigators “he regularly utilizes a body camera while on patrol” and that Mount Pleasant officers “are encouraged to use the body camera on any arrest incident.”

Giese had been chasing West, who had been riding his bike after 1:30 a.m. without a light on the bike. According to police, there had been multiple reported robberies in the area committed by individuals riding bikes.

Unbeknownst to Giese at the time, according to the district attorney, hours before West was killed he had left a party in Kenosha in a stolen vehicle with four other people. That vehicle was later pulled over by Kenosha Police, and all five occupants fled. Four of them were reportedly stopped at the scene, but West got away.

In the 2400 block of Racine Street, after Giese fired a Taser at West and missed, West reportedly stumbled and allegedly dropped a firearm on the ground. Giese told investigators, according to Hanson’s decision, that he then stood over West and yelled “Don’t reach for the gun! I’m going to shoot you!” while holding his firearm in one hand and his radio in the other.

West allegedly continued to struggle and his hand was, according to Giese, fewer than 3 inches away from the gun on the ground. When asked by investigators if he could have kicked the gun further away, Giese told investigators he couldn’t for fear of losing his balance.

According to the decision: “Based on his training and experience, Sergeant Giese knows that if Mr. West is able to get his hand free and obtain the firearm, due to their close proximity, Mr. West will be able to fire the handgun at him.”

West then started to get free from underneath the police sergeant, according to Giese’s report. That’s when “Sergeant Giese makes the decision to put space between them and that he must now use deadly force,” according to the court document.

West was shot three times at close range, according to the autopsy report: twice in the head and once in the shoulder.

Body camera

“Sergeant Giese believed he was not able to manually activate his body camera due to him watching Mr. West’s location, beginning his foot pursuit, and attempting to make contact with dispatch on his portable radio,” the decision said.

The decision continued: “There is no question that a body camera recording would have been helpful to an analysis of this case and given a more definitive picture of the events that occurred on June 15, 2019, however, the lack of body camera recording does not automatically indicate an inappropriate use of force. In light of the other evidence recovered, I can find no indication that the failure to start the body camera in this incident was intentional or done for any other nefarious purposes.”

Body camera footage from another Mount Pleasant police officer released by the district attorney’s office shows Giese moments after the shooting explain to other officers what happened.

The district attorney’s office has also released partially redacted audio of Giese’s communications with Racine County Dispatch in the minutes before and moments after West was shot.

Background included in report

The decision notes Giese’s history as an Army National Guard and Marine veteran, as well as the numerous law enforcement trainings Giese undertook.

The decision also noted that West had not yet graduated high school, was employed at McDonald’s, and had a litany of prior encounters with law enforcement, including multiple alleged incidents during which he fled from police and an incident in which he reportedly was in a car that was involved in a drive-by shooting.

“Ultimately, the use of lethal force was the only alternative he had left to exercise,” Hanson said in her decision.

Monique West previously told The Journal Times that her son was “terrified of the police,” but doesn’t think he ever would have pulled a gun on an officer.

Statements from law enforcement

A press release from the Racine Police Department, echoed what Hanson had written, pointing out that: “The Racine County District Attorney determined that ‘Sergeant Giese’s actions in this case fall under the privilege of self-defense,’ and as such, ‘no charges will be filed against Sergeant Giese in this case.’ ”

The RPD said that “an updated release” will be released “once the case file reports are available.”

Mount Pleasant Police Chief Matthew Soens wrote in a release sent out Wednesday night that “Officer-involved shootings are extremely tragic, and the aftermath is difficult to navigate for the community and law enforcement alike.

“While the Racine County District Attorney’s decision brings some closure to this tragedy, we recognize that many people are grieving the loss of Ty’ Rese West,” Soens wrote. “We offer our condolences to the West family and for all those who are mourning his loss.”

West’s father, Dwight Person, doesn’t believe there’s been closure. After leaving the courthouse after sundown Wednesday, he said, “I want to see a thorough investigation. I want to see Eric Giese locked up … They did not do a thorough investigation.”

Journal Times reporters Caitlin Sievers. Christina Lieffring and Brenda Wishau contributed to this report.

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©2019 The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc.

Visit The Journal Times, Racine, Wisc. at www.journaltimes.com

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