Prosecutor: Elkhart officers justified in fatal shooting of Norman Gary

(Photo supplied/ABC 57)

GOSHEN, Ind. (AP) — A prosecutor says a grand jury has found two Indiana police officers were justified in using deadly force to stop a man whom investigators say was driving a car toward them.

Elkhart County Prosecutor Vicki Becker announced Wednesday evening that Elkhart Sgt. Nathan Lanzen and Cpl. Leonard Dolshenko won’t face charges for the fatal Dec. 4 shooting of 29-year-old Norman Gary.

Investigators have said Lanzen and Dolshenko heard gunshots and ran toward the sound, firing shots at a car in an alley driven by Gary. A woman in the car and two others nearby were wounded.

Gary’s family and the injured woman have filed separate federal lawsuits against the officers.

The Elkhart County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office released their complete statement, which was read during a news conference on Wednesday:

I make these statements for the purpose of informing the public as to my intentions as Prosecuting Attorney relating to this case, and for safety concerns of our community.

The events surrounding Norman Gary’s death are truly a tragedy. His children, his family, his friends, his acquaintances, people who did not really know him, but that were touched by him, are all suffering due to his death. The three additional people that were injured by the shootings that occurred that night are suffering. The police officers who were put in a position they felt they had to use deadly force are suffering. The suffering is real, and it will take a great deal of time, and support, to heal.

There are many things we all hold sacred as priorities in our community. Safety of our families, friends, and neighbors are all included. Every event that occurs should be viewed from all of the different perspectives of those that see, hear, or experience an event. For those of us who do not get to experience it, we have to rely upon others to relay what they each saw, heard, or perceived. When our community members are forthcoming with information, it is much easier to understand those perspectives. When they are not, our community suffers in a different way. The most dangerous threats to peace are perceptions based on incomplete truths, or inaccurate assumptions and biases.

The Indiana State Police has completed their investigation into the shootings which occurred in the early morning hours of December 4, 2016. At approximately 3:45 a.m. that morning, Sgt. Nathan Lanzen, Cpl. Leonard Dolshenko, and Cpl. Brandon Roundtree were investigating and meeting with a victim of a residential burglary on Capital Boulevard, less than a block from a location where a party was ongoing on DeCamp Avenue. Numerous individuals that were at that party reported there were a large number of people present, the lowest estimate was more than fifty (50) persons, some of whom were drinking and some of whom were using marijuana. An argument between two people at the party culminated when one person pulled a 9mm handgun in the front yard at least ten (10) times and began shooting, striking the other person involved in the argument and a second man also present at the party. Shortly thereafter, another shooting took place in the alley at the rear of the residence where Norman Gary had previously parked during which Norman Gary’s gun was fired ten (10) times and the same 9mm weapon used in the shooting at the front of the house was fired at least three (3) more times.

The officers responding to the burglary call heard the first set of shots nearby and immediately ran from the burglary victim’s home and toward the sounds of gunfire. Hearing another set of gunfire, they were able to narrow down the specific location of shooting a few houses down DeCamp Avenue. Upon approaching the house on DeCamp, the officers observed numerous people outside the residence. Sgt Lanzen’s attention was drawn to the injured man lying in the area of the driveway, behind a car, to the north of an alley, who was suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, including one to his back which incapacitated him. Being aware of the presence of guns, and a large number of shots fired, both Sgt. Lanzen and Cpl. Dolshenko had their service weapons ready. Sgt. Lanzen was aware that Cpl. Dolshenko and Cpl. Roundtree were also close behind him, but did not know where. They had already radioed in to the city’s emergency communications that shots had been fired in that vicinity.

Sgt Lanzen’s attention was then drawn to the sound of a vehicle travelling very quickly in the alleyway. Sgt. Lanzen then observed headlights coming down the alley. Sgt Lanzen did not know who was in the car, nor what the driver’s intention was. However, Sgt Lanzen reported that he observed the car turn toward his location and drive straight toward where he was standing at a high rate of speed, which was also near the victim who was on the ground suffering from a gunshot wound to the back. Sgt. Lanzen, fearing for his own safety, and the safety of his fellow officers, fired his weapon three (3) times at the person that was driving the car. Cpl. Dolshenko also observed the vehicle changing paths and swerving toward Sgt. Lanzen and the victim on the ground. Fearing for his own safety and the safety of others, Cpl. Dolshenko fired his weapon five (5) times at the driver of the car. Both doing so in an attempt to stop the threat. The car then veered away from the officers and injured man and crashed into a tree on the opposite side of the road. This is significantly corroborated by forensic evidence documented at the scene.

Cpl. Dolshenko immediately approached the driver of the car and found him laying over toward the passenger side so he ordered the driver to put his hands up and sit up. The driver did not respond and Cpl. Dolshenko pulled the driver out onto the ground. A gun fell from the driver’s lap area, out of the car, and onto the ground at that time. Cpl. Dolshenko immediately handcuffed the driver to secure him. Not realizing how serious the wounds were. Within seconds, Cpl. Dolshenko realized the driver was fatally injured. The driver was Norman Gary. There was also a passenger in the front seat of the vehicle who appeared to be injured in the leg. Sgt. Lanzen had already called for medics and the passenger was responsive, so rather than cause further injury, officers waited for medics to arrive to treat the passenger.

Officer Lanzen struck Mr. Gary in the spine, and is likely to have struck the front seat passenger Jazzlyn Crase, in the leg with his shots. Cpl. Dolshenko struck Mr. Gary in the hand. It is reasonable to believe that one of the officers’ shots penetrated Mr. Gary’s left side, chest cavity, and heart, but the bullet did not have enough unique markings to determine which specific officer’s gun had fired it.

Why Norman Gary drove at such a high rate of speed, and directly toward where the officers and others were located, we will never know. His blood alcohol content at the time was .25 and he had THC (the psychotropic chemical compound in marijuana) active in his blood stream as well. We should not assume that he did so with ill intent as there is insufficient evidence to know. What we do know is that Mr. Gary was accelerating rapidly down the alleyway and into the grassy area between the alley and the driveway area where one gunshot victim was lying and Officer Lanzen was located. That action was perceived as a deadly threat and Officers Lanzen and Dolshenko both responded with deadly force.

A person is justified in using reasonable force against any other person to protect the person or a third person from what the person reasonably believes to be the imminent use of unlawful force. However, a person: (1) is justified in using deadly force; and (2) does not have a duty to retreat; if the person reasonably believes that that force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury to the person or a third person or the commission of a forcible felony. No person in this state shall be placed in legal jeopardy of any kind whatsoever for protecting the person or a third person by reasonable means necessary. The officers’ actions were reasonable under the circumstances. Accordingly, neither Sgt Lanzen nor Cpl. Dolshenko will face criminal charges as a result of their actions in this case.

Thank you to the investigators for their ethical responsibility to refrain from speaking publicly about the circumstances of this case.

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