Police Sharpshooter Testifies In Wrongful Death Lawsuit

Oct 23, 2013

A Grand Traverse County deputy testified in federal court he had no choice but to shoot Craig Carlson after a stand off at the man’s Interlochen home in 2007. Wednesday’s testimony was the first time Charlie Jetter has spoken publically about the shot he fired, ending an 11-hour barricade.

Arriving On Scene
Deputy Charlie Jetter lived close to Craig Carlson’s home in Interlochen. He was one of the earlier officers to arrive on the scene as part of a regional SWAT team.

Jetter left his patrol car at a nearby park, dressed in camouflage and grabbed his riffle, knowing very little, he says, about the man who had armed himself and requested officers at his home.

On and off during the night, Jetter observed the house and Carlson, who was inside. Jetter first watched first from the back, later from the front of the house.

And after 11 hours of standoff, Jetter testified Wednesday he heard Carlson yelling threats. Over the radio, Jetter heard an officer say Carlson had him “pinned down,” and in a tone that Jetter said made his hair raise, the officer asked for a sniper’s eyes on the situation.

Moving Fast
Jetter testifies he ran through the woods, moving to where he said he could see Carlson lean out of the front picture window. Carlson lifted his weapon and Jetter says the man pointed north and moved his finger to the trigger.

“Why is he doing this?” Jetter recounted his thoughts for the jury. The deputy said he thought about his family, the sheriff who was in command at the scene, 500 thoughts.

“Why is he doing this? I’m going to have to shoot him.”

Shot Fired
A single bullet hit Carlson above the right eye.

Jetter says he felt like throwing up. He was placed on administrative leave and it was about two months before a psychologist cleared him to return to work again.

Jetter is the defendant in the Carlson family’s civil lawsuit underway in federal court in Kalamazoo.

The family’s attorney says Jetter should have known at that time the shot was fired that the man he killed was mentally ill and suicidal.

“He lost his job. He had been in a coma; he had been hurt in a car crash. And he was crying out for help,” says Attorney Grant Parsons of Carlson. “And they show up with a SWAT team.”

Parsons argues officers should have been briefed on Carlson’s mental state.

“You would think that the sheriff would have briefed those individuals and said, ‘This is a guy who may be intent on ending his life. Let’s not let him do it. Let’s wait it out and get him some help.’”

Then-Sheriff Scott Fewins,  a Traverse City officer who was also in command at the scene and Grand Traverse County were originally named as defendants in the lawsuit. They have already been dismissed from the case. 

One Lone Bullet
Carlson was heavily armed, hoping to aim a gun at police and elicit return fire. The family believes his assault riffle was in safe mode at the moment he died.

Parsons says the deputy’s reaction might have been altered had he know Carlson was suicidal. He also says Jetter should have warned Carlson and/or his commanding officers that he planned to shoot.

“Jetter was one of 11 officers intimately associated with that instant and nobody else shot,” says Parsons.

Jetter testified his goal had been to end the standoff peacefully, that he didn’t come to the scene intending to shoot anyone. His attorney, Chris Cooke, says Jetter did what he should have done.

“Thank God he did what he did,” says Cooke. “Other people would have been severely injured if he hadn’t done what he did.”

Cooke says Jetter had no time to issue a warning before the shot.  

“There was all sorts of opportunities throughout the entire evening for Mr. Carlson to come out of the home. And that’s what we wanted. That’s exactly what we wanted. But sadly it turned out differently and that’s why we’re here.”

Allegations Of Cover Up
Attorney Grant Parsons argues this is a civil rights matter, a wrongful death labeled as justified too quickly by both an independent investigation through both the Michigan State Police and a special prosecutor. No criminal charges were ever filed.

Parsons also alleges a cover up. Carlson’s clothes went missing after an autopsy. Officers’ radio communications were only recorded during the first part of the evening. He argues there are other gaps in evidence as well.

The jury is not hearing these arguments. Parson’s has yet to convince Judge Paul Maloney there’s enough evidence to bring those issues forward in a case against Deputy Jetter, who was responsible at the scene for observing Carlson and for protecting his fellow officers.

The Carlson family spoke with IPR at the time the lawsuit was filed. The audio story, which also features 9-1-1 tapes and then-Sheriff Scott Fewins is archived here.