Prosecutor: Deadly force reasonable in fatal shooting of mentally ill man

Jonathan Sper - booking photo from January 2017

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Kent County Prosecutor has determined that a Kent County Sheriff’s Deputy was justified in the fatal shooting of man who was attacking his brother and having injured two deputies in a domestic violence incident.

The incident happened on January 24 in Algoma Township. Jonathan Sper, 30, died from being shot three times by Deputy Jason Wiersma, through a door.

Wyoming Police conducted the investigation before submitting their findings to the prosecutor’s office.

Prosecutor Chris Becker says in his 10-page report that Sper had been released from jail earlier in the day and had gone to his brother’s residence.  Sper had a history of mental illness and had been treated as having Bipolar Disorder since he was 18. He had also been diagnosed four years ago with Bipolar Type Schizoaffective Disorder.  Sper apparently had been self-medicating and had been hospitalized at times at Pine Rest Hospital.

During the January 24 altercation, Sper’s brother Stephen had tried to get Jonathan to leave the residence on Summit Court NE, which then led to a fight. Stephen called 911 saying his brother had gotten violent and wouldn’t leave.

Deputies Wiersma and John Tuinhoff arrived and made contact with Jonathan in the garage. The investigation shows Jonathan did not comply with the deputies and resisted contact, hitting Wiersma several times in the head and body. Because of close quarters in the garage, the officers did not deploy a taser.

Photo from Kent Co. Prosecutor – stairway off garage where deputies and Jonathan Sper fought

Jonathan was able to get away and pushed both deputies down about 15 wooden stairs, according to the report. In the continued scuffle at the bottom of the stairs, the deputies tried to taser Jonathan, but it didn’t have any affect.  They also reported that Jonathan made efforts to get their firearms from them. They also reported that Jonathan hit and struck at them with bottles or other sharp objects that were at the bottom of the stairwell.

Jonathan was able to get past them and into the home where Stephen was located. Deputies said that Jonathan had a sharp object in his hand and closed the door in Deputy Wiersma’s face. Wiersma reported that he was concerned that Stephen was now in danger and fired four shots through the door, hitting Jonathan three times in the neck, shoulder and arm.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Both deputies were injured in the incident.

The Kent County Prosecutor called the incident a “complete tragedy for everyone involved” and said that the incident is “directly attributable to the fact that Jonathan had suffered from severe mental illness” and that he was “an intelligent, much loved son and brother who would not engage in the sort of violent behavior he exhibited that night if he was not suffering from the effects of his severe mental illness combined with the consumption of alcohol.”

Photo from Kent Co. Prosecutor – stairway off garage where deputies and Jonathan Sper fought

The prosecutor says that Deputy Wiersma “had an honest belief that deadly force was needed to stop Jonathan from attacking his brother.” Becker says that Wiersma had to choose in a split second that he had to shoot to keep Jonathan from attacking Stephen and that the decision was reasonable.

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