Bad River Band wants federal inquiry into fatal shooting of teen by sheriff's deputy
The Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa is asking the U.S. Department of Justice to open a civil rights investigation into the fatal shooting of a 14-year-old boy by an Ashland County Sheriff's Office deputy.
The band said in a statement Thursday that it wants the agency's Civil Rights Division to conduct a "criminal civil rights and civil police misconduct investigation" into the Nov. 8 death of Jason Ike Pero.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice earlier said in a statement that Pero was shot by Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich after lunging at him with a knife. The state DOJ statement said Pero had been "despondent" in the days ahead of the incident and was the one who called 911 to report a knife-wielding person with his own physical description.
The band said in a Thursday statement that it "does not agree with this recent press release, nor the excessive use of force on a minor child."
"This police brutality has to end. It's an epidemic in our country and against all Native Americans," Pero's mother, Holly Gauthier, said in the statement. "Now our family is counted among them. Many of these killings are unlawful and are not properly prosecuted. Our laws about prosecuting unlawful police conduct need to change, and this has to end now."
The U.S. Department of Justice did not immediately respond to the News Tribune's request for comment on the matter.
Meanwhile, it was announced Thursday that a special prosecutor will handle the review of the case, taking it out of the hands of Ashland County District Attorney Kelly McKnight.
St. Croix County District Attorney Michael Nieskes said he accepted McKnight's request to determine whether the shooting was justified or if any charges are warranted.
Nieskes said he had not yet received the case file, but expected that it is "going to be substantial" and did not have a timeline for issuing a decision.
The Wisconsin DOJ said on Saturday that Pero was the 911 caller and that Mrdjenovich, a deputy with about a year of experience, was the first to arrive at the scene on Maple Street in Odanah. Family members have said that Jason, who was a student at Ashland Middle School, was out sick from school the day of the shooting.
The DOJ report said that Pero approached Mrdjenovich with a large butcher knife and refused numerous commands to drop the knife. Pero twice lunged at the deputy while the deputy was attempting to retreat, according to the statement.
Mrdjenovich fired his weapon at Pero, striking him twice. Lifesaving measures were initiated, but Pero was pronounced dead at the medical center.
The band said Thursday that it did not believe Pero to be a threat, saying the teen "was known in the community as a kind and gentle person with a great sense of humor" and a "sweet and non-violent boy."
The Tribal Council also encouraged the community to "grieve in a healthy way, and not to channel grief through violence and angry posts on social media."
"Our family would like to thank everyone for their continued support as we mourn for my son Jason and we continue to demand justice," Gauthier said. "There is no reason a police officer should ever shoot a child, and there is no reason that police should be shooting to kill."
The Hudson Star-Observer contributed to this report.