Officer-involved shooting death of Rodney Ross ruled justified

(Photo supplied/St. Joseph County Police)

The St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office has ruled “justified” the officer-involved shooting death of a man who shot an officer and a St. Joseph County K9.

The hours-long search for Rodney Ross began when St. Joseph County officers tried to serve a warrant on Oct. 13 in the area of Lilac and Cleveland Roads in St. Joseph County.

MORE: Suspect killed, officer and K9 shot as manhunt in South Bend comes to an end

Hours later, Ross fired at officers as they closed in, hitting a Pokagon Tribal Officer and St. Joe County K9 “Luna.”

Ross was then shot by police and pronounced dead at the scene. This week, Luna underwent surgery to remove the bullet from her leg.

The following information was sent to 95.3 MNC by the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office:

St. Joseph County –The St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit (CMHU) has completed
its investigation into the October 13, 2020, officer involved shooting death of Rodney
Ross, 30, in the 52000 block of Lilac Road, St. Joseph County. After reviewing CMHU’s
investigation into this incident, the Prosecutor’s Office has determined that the shooting of
Rodney Ross constituted a justifiable homicide under I.C. 35-41-3-2(c). As such, no
criminal charges will be filed in connection with his death.

According to the investigation, on October 13, 2020, officers with the Warrants Division
of the St. Joseph County Police Department learned that Rodney Ross was wanted on a
warrant issued from Elkhart County. Those officers also learned that Rodney Ross may be
located in a home on Lilac Road. They therefore approached the front door of that home
and spoke with occupants who were inside. Unknown to the officers, Rodney Ross was
hiding in a lean-to off of the back of the home’s garage.

When officers arrived at that home, Rodney Ross possessed two weapons: a semi-automatic 9mm handgun (which had the capacity to hold a total of 7 rounds in the magazine and 1 round in the chamber), and a 38 caliber revolver (capable of holding 5 rounds).

While hiding in the lean-to off the back off the garage, Rodney Ross began shooting at the
officers, who took cover behind a vehicle. Officers returned fire. Mr. Ross then ran into heavy brush and trees, continuing to shoot toward the officers. After the incident, Crime Scene Investigators from the CMHU located 9 mm shell casings (from the semi-automatic possessed by Mr. Ross) and a live round in that lean-to.

Investigators also located a spent projectile (fired from the revolver possessed by Mr. Ross) inside the garage that went through the wall of the lean-to, and a spent projectile (from the semi-automatic possessed by Mr. Ross) in the body of a vehicle where the officers had taken cover.

Two officers returned fire: SJCPD Officers Cpl. Nate Bachman and Cpl. Craig Swanson. Cpl.
Bachman discharged 2 rounds from his department issued AR15 rifle, and Cpl. Swanson fired 5 rounds from his department issued Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm handgun.
There is no evidence that anyone was struck during that engagement.

Because of the danger that Mr. Ross exhibited, other area law enforcement officers responded. Officers from the SJCPD, the MPD, the SBPD, the ISP, ATF, US Marshals, the FBI and the Pokagon Tribal Police Department arrived and began searching for Mr. Ross in the heavy brush and trees. Both the SJC SWAT Team and members of the SBPD SWAT Team were also activated. Officers methodically canvassed the area, searching for Mr. Ross. Later, Mr. Ross again engaged officers by shooting at them. Officers again returned fire. In this encounter, Mr. Ross, an officer, and a K-9 were shot.

Concerning the 2 nd engagement with Rodney Ross, investigators learned that Rodney Ross had hidden in a brushy area of the woods, lying in wait for officers. This area, 3 residences to the north of the original home where the first encounter took place, afforded Mr. Ross an area to lie in wait for officers. When officers approached that area, Rodney Ross left his hiding place and fired 3 shots at the officers. Mr. Ross shot both Pokagon Tribal Police Officer (and St. Joseph County Metro Swat Member) Joseph Kasznia and SJCPD K-9 Luna. Three officers then returned fire. Off Joseph Kasznia fired 2 rounds from department issued AR15 rifle; SJCPD Sgt. Randy Rodriguez (also a SJCP SWAT Member) fired 5 rounds from his Department issued AR15 rifle; and SJCPD Sgt. Matt Parmalee (K-9 Handler of Luna) fired 3 rounds from his department issued Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm handgun. Through ballistic testing it was determined that the fatal round that killed Rodney Ross was fired by Sgt. Randy Rodriguez.

Upon being struck by the officers, Rodney Ross fell. Officers then ceased fire and began
verbally ordering Ross not to move. Other officers from the combined departments made their way to Ross and found that he had been shot. St. Joseph County Metro SWAT Team Doctors were able to get to Mr. Ross very quickly to address his injuries. However, Rodney Ross was declared deceased at the scene. Doctors also treated both Officer Kasznia and K-9 Luna.

Officer Kasznia was struck one time through the right calf. He was treated and released
from the hospital on October 14, 2020, and is still recovering at his home. Besides his
duties as a patrol officer, Officer Kasznia is a member of the St. Joseph County Metro  SWAT Team. That SWAT Team is comprised of officers from the St. Joseph County
Police Department, the Mishawaka Police Department, and the Pokagon Tribal Police

SJCPD K-9 Luna was shot in the hind leg. She was transported to Roseland Veterinarian
Clinic in Roseland Indiana, where she was stabilized, before being transported by Beacon
Hospital ambulance to North Central Veterinarian Emergency Center in Westville Indiana
and is in stable condition.

After the shooting, the St. Joseph County Metro Homicide Unit (CMHU) was activated,
per protocol, to handle the investigation. Officers recovered both the 9 mm semi-automatic
handgun and the revolver in the possession of Mr. Ross.

An autopsy was conducted on October 15, 2020. The forensic pathologist determined
Rodney Ross died as a result of a gunshot wound and the ruled the manner of his death to
be a homicide. A “homicide” is defined as “death at the hands of another”.
Under certain circumstances, Indiana Law specifies when a homicide may be legally
“justified”. According to I.C. 35-41-3-2(c): “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 the 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 State must disprove this self-defense
and defense of others, beyond a reasonable doubt.

After reviewing the witnesses’ statements (from officers, neighbors, and individuals in the
home), physical evidence, digital evidence, medical evidence and forensic evidence, it is
clear that the situation leading to the shooting of Mr. Ross was a direct result of his own
actions, and that the officers reasonably believed that force was necessary to prevent
serious bodily injury or death to another. Therefore, based upon the law as applied to
these facts and circumstances, this office has concluded that the shooting death of Rodney
Ross is legally justified, and no charges will be filed in this matter.

The criminal investigation regarding the death of Rodney Ross is concluded. The CMHU
and this office have met with the family of Mr. Ross prior to this release.
The CMHU is forwarding its investigation to both the St. Joseph County Police
Department and the Pokagon Tribal Police Department for whatever internal
investigations that those entities deem appropriate.

The following information was sent to 95.3 MNC by The St. Joseph County Police Department:

St. Joseph County – October 28, 2020 – Police Officers from multiple area law enforcement agencies responded to a shots fired call and subsequent hunt for a wanted suspect on Tuesday October 13, 2020. The resulting hunt spanned the course of that Tuesday afternoon, resulting in the death of the suspect Rodney Ross, the shooting of Officer Joseph Kasznia of the Pokagon Tribal Police Department, and the shooting of K9 Luna of the County Police Department.    

During the course of two shootouts, the St. Joe County-Metro SWAT team, South Bend Police SWAT team, and dozens of officers from multiple agencies were part of the search and shoot out. During the shootouts with the suspect, four St. Joseph County Police officers fired their department weapons. Metro Homicide has investigated the discharge of those weapons. Per protocol, County Police are also conducting an internal investigative review of officers’ compliance with department policies and procedures.  

Two days following the incident, officers from all the different departments involved took part in an incident debrief. The debrief included all officers on scene along with peer support counselors and a with a licensed counselor trained in first responder critical incident counseling. The debrief included discussions of the physical and mental responses experienced following the shootouts along with a discussion by all officers of their role and experience during the incident. The trained peer support counselors are officers whom have also experienced an incident and are trained to talk through what is “normal reactions to an abnormal incident” with their fellow officers.   

Additionally, the County Police Department Warrants team who were first on scene and were shot at by the suspect took part in a smaller debrief with the counselor to discuss their experiences of taking on gun fire while attempting to apprehend a wanted subject. Also, the four County Police officers who discharged their weapons during this incident were provided with one-on-one counseling sessions with the counselor. All County officers have been cleared to return to duty.   

On Tuesday October 28 County Police K9 Luna underwent surgery to remove the bullet from her leg. Tomorrow, Thursday October 29 at 1:00 p.m. eastern time, Luna’s handler County Police Sgt. Parmalee, Luna, Sheriff Redman and representatives of Roseland Animal Hospital, Beacon Health, North Central Vet Emergency Clinic and Oak Knoll Vet Clinic will meet with the media and provide an update on Luna’s recovery from surgery. Sgt. Parmalee and Sheriff Redman will also publicly express their gratitude to all the individuals who’ve been involved in the treatment of Luna since Tuesday October 13th.  

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