Prosecutor determines no crime committed in Alger shooting

MARQUETTE – Marquette County Prosecuting Attorney Matthew Wiese has determined no crime was committed and no criminal charges will be filed against a Munising City Police Department officer who fatally shot an Alger County man twice in the chest after a high-speed car chase last month.

The Michigan Attorney General’s Office appointed Wiese as a special prosecutor in the case after Alger County Prosecutor Karen Bahrman recently recused herself from the case.

In a press release issued Tuesday, Wiese said Timothy Mitchell, 46, of Wetmore died after being shot twice in the chest July 14 by Munising City Police Officer Justin Schlabach.

Schlabach had pursued Mitchell through Munising to Federal Forest Highway 13 and south to Buckhorn Road in Munising Township, where police said the shooting occurred, a distance of about 17 miles.

Wiese’s news release said the Michigan State Police conducted a thorough investigation of the incident. Munising Police Chief John Nelson had requested state police investigate.

According to police reports, Schlabach responded to a call to be on the lookout for a vehicle driven by Mitchell, heading east from the Christmas area into the city of Munising.

Alger County dispatch received a call reporting Mitchell was driving while intoxicated that he was all over the road, that he threatened the caller and that he had been in a physical altercation with another individual, the press release stated.

The release said Schlabach first saw Mitchell in the city of Munising – which is located a few miles east of Christmas along M-28 – and attempted to make a traffic stop.

Patrol car video showed Mitchell stopped briefly in response to Schlabach and then Mitchell fled the scene, driving through the city of Munising at speeds over 50 mph, disregarding stop signs, Wiese said in the release.

As the pursuit continued down Highway 13, speeds surpassed 100 mph, the release stated. Wiese said Schlabach backed off and pursued Mitchell at a safe distance. Schlabach came upon Mitchell after it appeared his car had run off the road.

“The evidence shows that Officer Schlabach attempted to apprehend Mr. Mitchell as Mr. Mitchell got out of his vehicle,” Wiese said in the release. “Officer Schlabach approached Mr. Mitchell with his service pistol drawn and repeatedly told Mr. Mitchell to get on the ground.”

Wiese’s release said Mitchell turned and advanced towards Schlabach in an aggressive manner. Schlabach back-stepped to keep a safe distance between himself and Mitchell, while repeatedly commanding Mitchell to stop and go down to the ground.

Schlabach told investigators Mitchell said, as he continued toward him, “You’re going to have to f—ing shoot me,” the release stated.

Wiese wrote it appears Mitchell continued to aggressively approach Schlabach despite repeated and numerous commands to stop. Schlabach reported that he feared for his life and believed Mitchell would do anything to get away, including taking his (Schlabach’s) life.

Wiese said under Michigan law a person has the right to use force or even take a life to defend himself under certain circumstances. If a person acts in lawful self-defense, that person’s actions are justified and he is not guilty of murder.

Wiese said Schlabach reported that he believed that he was in danger of being killed or seriously injured by Mitchell.

“Although he ultimately received back up from other Alger County law enforcement personnel, Officer Schlabach was the only law enforcement officer working the road in Alger County at the time of the incident,” Wiese wrote. “He was alone in a remote part of Alger County. Under the circumstances, it appears that he was justified in his belief that he was in imminent danger and acted immediately to defend himself.”

Schlabach was placed on paid administrative leave while the investigation took place.

According to Mitchell’s obituary, he graduated from John Glenn High School in downstate Westland and worked as a service technician in heating and cooling and was an auto body mechanic. Funeral services were held July 19 in Munising.