DA says town of Geneva police officers acted in self-defense

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Andrea Anderson | May 12, 2016

TOWN OF GENEVA—Two town of Geneva police officers acted in self-defense when they shot and killed a man who had used an ax to chop through a bedroom window before running at police with a hunting knife, Walworth County District Attorney Dan Necci has decided.

The man's family believes the officers were careless and is taking steps that could lead to a lawsuit against the agencies tied to the shooting.

Officers Eric Anderson and Jason Sweeney “were justified in using deadly force” Jan. 8 against Eric C. Olsen, 26, Necci wrote in a letter released Wednesday.

Anderson and Sweeney were among officers who responded to a report of Olsen using an ax to chop through a juvenile's bedroom window on West Lincoln Drive, according the state Division of Criminal Investigation report.

The homeowner heard a “loud crash” from his son's bedroom, saw the broken window and went outside on the front porch, where Olsen stood with a 4-foot ax, documents state.

Olsen told the man he was “going to cut his head off,” according to reports.

The homeowner, armed with a metal crow bar, and the son, armed with a hammer, called 911, the letter states.

Olsen swung the ax at the father but missed, and the ax head lodged in the siding of the home. The man then disarmed Olsen by hitting his arm with the crowbar, the report states.

Olsen then draped a chain with a hook at the end around his body. The two were struggling over the ax when Sweeney and Anderson arrived, according to reports.

Sweeney, armed with a .223-caliber rifle, and Anderson, armed with a handgun, entered the yard when Olsen pulled a 4-inch hunting knife from his belt, raised it and took four to five steps toward the two officers, according to reports.

The two told Olsen to drop the weapon and get on the ground “multiple times,” according to witness interviews included in the report.

Olsen yelled expletives at the officers and said, “Shoot me,” and “I want to die,” while “waving the knife around,” the letter states.

 Olsen was 20 to 30 feet from the officers when he raised the knife over his head and “charged” toward Sweeney and Anderson. Both officers fired their weapons until Olsen stopped and fell to the ground 10 to 20 feet away from the officers, according to the report.

Necci said his review of the facts and interviews show “it doesn't appear” the chains around Olsen's body were impeding his movement.

Officers immediately performed life-saving measures and called EMS for Olsen, according to the report.

A Waukesha County Medical Examiner's Office autopsy and a ballistics analysis from the Milwaukee Office of the Wisconsin State Crime Laboratory both determined Olsen died from multiple gunshot wounds, Necci wrote.

Necci said the two officers fired a combined 11 shots.

The homeowner's son told investigators he had seen Olsen earlier that day and the two “had a short confrontation” before the juvenile took a picture of Olsen, who had a red crucifix drawn on his forehead, the report states.

“I believe that there is no other logical conclusion that can be drawn from the evidence other than that officers Sweeney and Anderson were attempting to prevent themselves and others from being attacked with potentially deadly force and, therefore, officers Sweeney and Anderson were justified in using deadly force in response,” Necci wrote.

The two officers were put on paid administrative leave after the incident and will “be back shortly,” Chief Steven Hurley said Wednesday.

The family disagrees the shooting was justified.

The officers' actions were “negligent and without legal justification,” according to a notice of injury submitted to the Walworth County clerk and town of Geneva.

“We are deeply saddened by the contents of these reports as we do not believe that they fully reflect the circumstances of the shooting, nor the events leading up to it,” Olsen's parents, Chris and Betty Olsen, said in a written statement released Wednesday. “We are continuing to investigate the facts of this tragedy.”

Attorney John Cabaniss of Milwaukee filed the notice on behalf of Olsen's parents.

In the notice, Cabaniss wrote that Anderson and Sweeney confronted Olsen “without legal justification” and their actions caused Olsen's injury and emotional distress, which ultimately caused his death.

Among the allegations in the notice are claims that the town of Geneva, town of Geneva Police Department and Walworth County Sheriff's Office failed to:
-- Properly hire and complete adequate psychological screening of its police officers.
-- Supervise, control or train officers.
-- Provide thorough crisis training for officers.
-- Punish or discipline officers in “instances of similar conduct.”

The notice also claims the agencies “promote reckless attitudes in the use of firearms and refuse to cooperate with officials investigating unlawful actions by police officers.”

The parents are asking for the “maximum damages recoverable under all applicable laws,” including funeral and burial costs, the notice states.

Cabaniss could not be reached for comment.

Hurley directed questions about the investigation to Necci and would not comment on the family's notice of injury.

Michael Cotter, corporate counsel for the Walworth County Sheriff's Office, said the town of Geneva, town of Geneva Police Department and Walworth County Sheriff's Office will address the notice separately.

The Walworth County Board Executive Committee will review the claim in closed session and decide whether to accept or deny it. Cotter said he is “sure it will get denied” because “all claims like that are generally denied.”

Filing such a notice is a precursor to filing a lawsuit, Cotter said.

Walworth County officers responded to the scene but did not fire duty weapons and assisted with the Division of Criminal Investigations inquiry, the report states.

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