Two crosses, flowers and other items serve as a memorial for Kris Kristl, who was shot by police officers on Highway H just north of Petrie Road in the Town of Geneva on Feb. 2, 2017. (Photo by Heather Ruenz)

One case still under investigation; deadly force deemed justified in the others

By Vicky Wedig

Staff Writer

Oscar Villarreal remembers his son as a sharp-dressed kid who had a lot to look forward to.

Unlike some teenagers of his time who wore their pants down around their derrieres, Alfredo Emilio Villarreal wore dress pants and got up early before school to iron his shirts and polish his shoes.

“He’s not the kid who wore his pants hanging down,” Oscar Villarreal said.

While some teens would shut themselves in their rooms to look at unsavory things on the Internet, Oscar Villarreal would catch his son secretly watching History Channel shows about the most magnificent buildings in the world.

“He was very clear that he wanted to be an architect,” he said.

At 18 years old, while still attending Elkhorn Area High School, Alfredo Emilio Villarreal was shot and killed by a Walworth County sheriff’s deputy who was guarding him at Aurora Lakeland Medical Center in Elkhorn. Villarreal died Jan. 21, 2013.

He is one of seven men between the ages of 18 and 39 shot and killed by officers in Walworth County in the past six years. An eighth man was shot and wounded but survived.

Six were Caucasian men who lived in Walworth County. The youngest victims – 18-year-old Villarreal, of Elkhorn, and 21-year-old Christopher Davis, of Greenfield – were Latino and African-American, respectively.

In all but the most recent case – which is still under investigation – the use of deadly force has been deemed justified.

Killed at hospital

Villarreal was on probation at the time of his death after being apprehended for a fight that involved a knife. He was also suspected in a drive-by shooting a few days before his death, according to police.

Oscar Villarreal said the only trouble his son had been in involved defending relatives who were victims of racism. Emilio, he said, was a tall, handsome, light-skinned Latino with beautiful green eyes. He once got into a fight on the school bus in Hartland after someone called his sister a “spic whore,” and, in the incident that resulted in charges against him, Emilio was defending his cousin, Oscar Villarreal said.

He said a group of kids got into a fight, and one of them had a knife. Emilio took the knife away from the teen, and, as they were wrestling around with the knife, the other kid got cut, Oscar Villarreal said.

Police contend Villarreal stabbed Rafael Villegas twice in the incident on March 21, 2012, behind Jackson Elementary School in Elkhorn.

The day before his death, Emilio had borrowed Oscar Villarreal’s dad’s work truck and was pulled over around 6 or 7 p.m. in Elkhorn, and police began questioning him about a burglary, Oscar Villarreal said. Because he was on probation, Emilio was taken into custody for questioning, he said. While Emilio was being held and interrogated, he was beaten, Oscar Villarreal contends. He suffered a broken nose and a cut to the back of his head and had marks on his neck and wrists and bruises on his legs and abdomen, he said.

Emilio’s head injury was severe enough that he passed out and was taken, with a deputy as an escort, to Aurora Lakeland Medical Center across the street from the Sheriff’s Department, for a cat scan at around 11:30 p.m. or midnight Jan. 20, Oscar Villarreal said.

Police allege Emilio tried to escape out a second-story window of the hospital at about 7 p.m. Jan. 21, attacked the deputy and the deputy shot him, Villarreal said. He said his son was supposedly wrestling with the officer and Emilio pushed the deputy out of the room and closed the door before the deputy shot him.

According to a District Attorney’s Office review of the case, Villarreal was booked into the jail at about 8:35 p.m. Jan 20 and found face-down and unconscious in his cell at about 3:30 a.m. Jan. 21 with a cut to his head. He was taken to Lakeland Hospital where Deputy Richard Lagle guarded him, according to the review.

Lagle removed Villarreal’s leg shackles to allow him to use the bathroom at about 6 p.m. When Lagle tried to put the shackles back on Villarreal, Villarreal kicked Lagle in the face and began punching him in the head, according to the report. The struggle moved from Villarreal’s hospital room to the hallway where Lagle tried to use a Taser on Villarreal, but the end of the Taser fell off, according to the report.

Villarreal then retreated to his room, and Lagle, who fired his Taser but either missed or hit the closed door of the hospital room, entered the room with his service weapon drawn, the report states.

When Lagle entered the room, Villarreal was banging on and had broken the window of the hospital room with a chair, according to the report. Lagle ordered Villarreal to put the chair down, but Villarreal charged at Lagle with the chair raised, and Lagle fired at Villarreal five times, the report contends.

Villarreal said deputies knocked on his door at about 1:30 a.m. Jan. 22 – more than six hours after his son’s death – and informed him Emilio had been shot once and died as a result. However, when Villarreal identified his son at the morgue, he saw a boy who’d been beaten and shot five times.

“I think they murdered him,” he said. “On the autopsy, they said it was murder. They beat him up.”

Officers cleared

Officers were cleared in each incident including Villarreal’s. Then-District Attorney Dan Necci concluded Lagle’s acts were “privileged as acts of defense of himself or others.”

“I believe that there is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence other than that Deputy Lagle was attempting to prevent himself and others from being attacked with potentially deadly force and, therefore, Deputy Lagle was justified in using deadly force in response,” Necci wrote in a March 22, 2013, review of the investigation.

But Villarreal believes deputies were covering up beating his son and his son could have been sedated rather than killed with a nurse’s station less than 10 feet from his room.

“They’re trigger happy,” he said. “They are ready to shoot you and ask questions later.”

‘Suicide by cop’

At least four of the fatal incidents appeared to be cases of “suicide-by-cop.”

Kris Kristl, 26, of Lake Geneva, had alluded to suicide to friends and told them he would “go out with a bang,” before officers shot him in the Town of Geneva on Feb. 2, 2017, according to a Department of Justice report. Walworth County Sheriff’s Deputy Jesse Smith and Elkhorn Police Officer Robert Rayfield shot and killed Kristl after he pulled a real-looking BB handgun out of his pocket and pointed it at Smith.

John Brown, 22, of the Town of Lyons, also was reportedly suicidal when he came toward Deputy Wayne Blanchard in Brown’s Town of Lyons trailer home with a knife on May 5, 2012, and was shot and killed.

Jeremiah Krubert, 39, of Elkhorn, approached an armed deputy with a large-blade knife saying “kill me, kill me” after he allegedly beat his mother’s boyfriend with a metal pipe at his mom’s County Highway O home on June 13, 2013. Krubert fled in the deputy’s squad car and armed himself with a service rifle from the car after crashing into farm equipment in a field in the Town of Sugar Creek, according to a District Attorney’s Office review of the case. Four deputies fired at Krubert, who was mentally ill, according to the review. It is unclear which deputy or deputies fired the fatal shot or shots.

Eric C. Olsen, 26, of the Town of Geneva, told a neighbor to kill him when Olsen tried to break a window on the man’s house with an axe on Jan. 8, 2016, and swung the axe at the man, according to a Department of Justice report.

When police arrived, the neighbor had disarmed Olsen of the axe by hitting his arm with a crowbar, but Olsen produced a knife and a chain with a hook on the end of it and told police, “Shoot me. Kill me. I don’t want to live,” according to the report. Olsen then charged at officers in an “outright sprint” from about 20 to 30 feet away, and Town of Geneva officers Eric Anderson and Jason Sweeney fired their weapons when Olsen was about 10 to 20 feet from them, according to the report.

Suicide was not the case with his son, Oscar Villarreal contends.

Before his death, Emilio Villarreal had learned his girlfriend was pregnant, had announced to his family that he planned to be responsible for the child, had borrowed his grandfather’s truck that day to start a new job and planned to pursue a career in architecture after graduating from high school, he said.

“He had his plan,” Oscar Villarreal said. “He was very focused on what he was going to do with his life.”

Cars as weapons

In the most recent incident, Walworth County Sheriff’s Deputy Peter Wisnefsky, 28, shot Sean Dutcher, 38, when Dutcher drove toward Wisnefsky, who had gotten out of his squad car, on Centralia Street in Elkhorn after a chase Oct. 18.

That incident remains under review by the state Department of Justice  before a final ruling will be issued by the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office.

Davis and Robert Lynn also were in cars when police shot them. Davis was a passenger in a car fleeing from Roma’s Restaurant in East Troy on Feb. 24, 2016, after an apparent drug deal.

Walworth County Sheriff’s Deputy Juan Ortiz shot at the car, which was driving toward him, and the shots struck and killed Davis. Jose G. Lara, 33, of Milwaukee, who was driving the car, is charged with reckless homicide in Davis’ death.

According to a District Attorney’s Office review of the investigation, Ortiz fired shots as he jumped out of the way, and the car steered away from Ortiz only after he fired the second shot.

Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Nichols shot and struck Lynn, then 29, in the Town of Mukwonago on Aug. 24, 2012, after Lynn allegedly robbed People’s Bank in the Town of Sugar Creek and then led police on a chase through Walworth and Waukesha counties. Nichols deployed stop sticks, which Lynn tried to drive around toward Nichols, and Nichols tried to get out of the way but needed to take steps to stop the car before it would strike him, according to a Waukesha County District Attorney’s review of the case. Lynn slowed and ultimately stopped the car after Nichols fired the first couple of rounds, according to the review. Lynn was wounded but survived.

Davis’ mother, Doretha Lock, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Milwaukee. Brown’s mother, Nancy Brown, also sued Walworth County and Deputy Blanchard in District Court in 2013. The case bounced around the federal court system for nearly four years before the county’s insurance company in January 2017 agreed to pay Brown $1.1 million to end the drawn-out litigation with no finding of wrongdoing by the county or the deputy, according to federal court records. The case was dismissed with prejudice, meaning it can’t be resurrected.

Lethal-force policy

Walworth County Sheriff’s Office policy requires any alleged high-level use of force by deputies, whether or not it results in death, to be investigated. Use-of-force incidents that result in death must be investigated by an outside agency per state statute.

In the past four years, the state Department of Justice has investigated 49 incidents of officer-involved shootings statewide. Three of those were in Walworth County.

They were the deaths of Olsen on Jan. 8, 2016, Davis, on Feb. 24, 2016, and Kristl on Feb. 2, 2017.

The deaths of Villarreal, Krubert and Brown and the shooting of Lynn occurred in 2013 and 2012 before DOJ statistics are available online.

The most recent officer-involved shooting in Walworth County – the death of Dutcher in Elkhorn in October – is not yet among the statistics because the investigation into the incident is not yet complete.

In 2016, the two officer-involved shootings in Walworth County that resulted in the deaths of Davis and Olsen accounted for 13 percent of the 15 Department of Justice investigations. The county makes up less than 2 percent of the state’s population.

“Obviously something needs to be done,” Villarreal said. “There’s something wrong with the Walworth County Sheriff’s Department.”

Sheriff’s Department policy requires deputies to use only the amount of force that is reasonably necessary to accomplish their objectives. Deadly force may be utilized as a last resort when deputies believe they or another person are in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, according to the policy.

Deputies may fire at an unarmed fleeing felon subject only if they have probable cause to believe the subject poses a significant threat of death or great bodily harm to deputies or others, according to the policy. The policy prohibits warning shots.

Sheriff’s department policy requires officers or deputies involved in a high-level-use-of-force incident to be removed from the scene as soon as possible.

After shooting Kristl, who got up and took a shooting stance after being shot once by Deputy Smith, Elkhorn officer Rayfield was removed from the scene as he tried to administer CPR to Kristl, according to DOJ reports. Rescue personnel were on scene to take over life-saving measures.

Officers responding to a deadly scene are advised not to disarm the deputy involved unless safety dictates they do so, according to department policy. The policy is in recognition of the physiological reactions officers are likely to experience after being involved in a shooting situation including senses of slow motion and detachment, tunnel vision, a skewed sense of time and space, nausea or vomiting and an increase in blood pressure.

Officers are also likely to experience impaired speech, uncontrollable crying, shock, guilt, anger and disbelief, according to the policy.

Deputy Matthew Weber, who responded to the scene on County Road H where Kristl was shot, reported Rayfield was “visibly upset” and Smith was “amped” and said, “He f—ing pulled a gun. He stuck a gun in my face. He tried to kill me,” according to a DOJ report.

A full detailed interview of the deputies involved is not allowed until the deputies involved have had to two to three average sleep cycles after the shooting. Deputies are temporarily removed from line-of-duty assignments after being involved in a shooting, must meet with a psychologist experienced in high-level-use-of-force incident, undergo at least one counseling session and are monitored after returning to duty for symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the policy.

EDITOR’ NOTE: A headline on the version of this story that appeared in the print editions of Southern Lakes Newspapers’ Walworth County publications this week incorrectly stated that deadly force had been deemed justified in all cases. The Oct. 18 shooting of Sean Dutcher remains under investigation by the state Department of Justice. A ruling by the Walworth County District Attorney’s Office on the use of deadly force by police in that case is anticipated once that investigation is complete. The staff of Southern Lakes Newspapers apologizes for the error.

 
 

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