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Report details fatal shooting by police: 'We have to stop him'

Report details fatal shooting by police: 'We have to stop him'

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RACINE – When police responded to the July 6 call for a man who said he swallowed 100 ibuprofen pills, they were prepared for the possibility the man could be armed.

That is what they found when they arrived at his apartment in the 3000 block of Durand Avenue. They tried to have him put down his knife and tried to deploy Tasers at him.

But in the end, Rajko Utvic, who suffered from bipolar disorder, died after an officer shot at him five times, hitting him three times, according to a 35-page report issued by the Racine County Sheriff’s Office.

That report, required by a new state law, details interviews with witnesses as well as the officers who responded to the scene. Racine County District Attorney Rich Chiapete found the lethal force used in the incident was justified.

In a statement released Tuesday, Racine Police Chief Art Howell said: “Although the investigative findings support the conclusion that the use of lethal force was justified, as law enforcement professionals, we are mindful that the outcome in this case is difficult for family members and friends of Mr. Utvic. Even when justified by legal intervention, the loss of life is no less tragic.”

Past incident

According to the report, Racine Police officers Craig Klepel and Mathias Zinnen responded to Durand Avenue for a welfare check at 12:20 p.m. on July 6.

One of the officers, Klepel, had previously had contact with Utvic, according to the report.

He remembered Utvic’s name because it’s a unique name, he told investigators, and he remembered he was a large man. He was approximately 6 feet 5 inches tall and 250 pounds, according to the report. Klepel couldn’t remember the specifics of the call he responded to previously, but he believed it was for an incident involving strangulation and battery.

According to a separate report, police had responded to a call involving Utvic three years ago, on the evening of July 19, 2011. After a man asked Utvic to turn down his music, he chased the man, knocked him to the ground, put his hands around his neck and beat his head against the floor, according to Utvic’s criminal complaint. He was later found guilty of misdemeanor battery.

The fatal shooting

With some knowledge of Utvic’s history, the two officers responded to Utvic’s door together. It was initially locked and for approximately 3 to 5 minutes they tried to get Utvic to open the door, according to the report.

When Utvic finally opened the door, they found a trail of blood and bloody footprints on the floor. Utvic was standing in the corner, tucked between the wall and the couch and was holding a knife with the blade pointed toward the officers, according to the report. He was also holding a type of blanket, which Klepel told investigators he thought Utvic had as a way to protect himself against a Taser.

Klepel said he told Utvic repeatedly, “Drop the knife. Drop the knife.”

But he didn’t comply and Klepel deployed his Taser, according to the report. That didn’t work, though, and Utvic started coming toward them with his knife raised in a stabbing motion, the report says.

At that point Zinnen also deployed his Taser, and when that didn’t have an effect Klepel dropped his Taser and switched to his firearm, he told investigators.

Again Klepel told him to “Drop the knife. Drop the knife.” But they said Utvic didn’t, at which point Klepel fired his gun.

At that moment, Klepel told investigators, the thoughts going through his mind were: “We have to stop him. This guy’s armed. He is going to kill one of us. He’s going to kill both of us.”

He shot two quick rounds toward the upper portion of his chest from about 12 to 15 feet away. But he told investigators: “What was worrying me, though, is that those first two shots didn’t seem to do a … thing either, after that I kept shooting till he stopped.”

In the end, police found five bullets had been discharged, according to the report, striking Utvic in his abdominal and chest area, and high on the left side of his head. One round apparently went through the floor into the hallway below, and another possibly penetrated a wall. 

Nancy Reyes, 71, who lives near Utvic and is one of the witnesses police talked to, said she had seen him a few times and he always appeared happy.

She told The Journal Times she watched the events unfold from her window and wondered if there could have been another solution to handle what happened.

But Pamela Cox, 55, the building manager at the apartment where Utvic lived, who also talked to police, said she is convinced that police acted properly.

“They did their job,” Cox said in an interview with The Journal Times. “They were polite. They knew who they were dealing with. They handled everything great.”

The findings

Zinnen, a second-shift officer training as an evidence technician, has been with the department since May 2009. Klepel, a second-shift field training officer, evidence technician, firearms instructor and bike officer, has been with the department since May 2005.

Both officers were given paid administrative time off while the investigation was going on and to go through evaluations to determine they were ready to return to work, Howell said. Both have since returned to patrol, he said. Officer Klepel, who used his firearm, had blood drawn following the incident, and there was no indication he was impaired, Howell said. 

Both have positive work records, with no disciplinary record and the outcome of the investigation showed they operated per their training based on the circumstances they faced, Howell said.

Based on the findings from the investigation, a Racine County Sheriff’s Office investigator said in his report: “It appears as though Utvic’s own decisions ultimately brought forth the resolution knowing that engaging Officers Klepel and Zinnen with an edged weapon from 10-15 feet away would result in the use of deadly force.”

Those are the sentiments Chiapete also echoed in his findings that he released to the Racine police chief on July 14.

“Mr. Utvic bears total culpability for this deadly force confrontation. The officers attempted lesser force options, but were ultimately faced with a situation that placed their own lives at risk," he said in his report. “He was in very close proximity to the officers when lethal force became the only viable option. Utvic left officers with no other alternatives.”

Pete Wicklund and Aaron Knapp contributed to this report. 

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