Deadly con­se­quences while on duty and un­der fire

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY AMY BRIT­TAIN

FOND DU LAC, WIS. — Stopped in his pa­trol cruiser, Trooper Trevor Casper searched for a gray Toy­ota Corolla on a busy stretch of High­way 41. Be­hind the wheel was Steven Ti­mothy Sny­der, a bank rob­ber and killer on the run. When Casper spot­ted Sny­der about 5:30 p.m., he eased his cruiser into south­bound traf­fic, fol­low­ing the Corolla at a dis­tance, keep­ing his lights and siren off.

But Sny­der soon re­al­ized he was be­ing fol­lowed. Out­side the Pick ’n Save gro­cery store, he abruptly turned his car around. He raised his semi­au­to­matic pis­tol and opened fire, strik­ing Casper in the neck.

Sny­der and Casper jumped out of their cars while they were still rolling. The 21-year-old trooper, armed with a .40-cal­iber Glock, and the 38-year-old bank rob­ber cir­cled the cruiser, guns blaz­ing. Casper fired 12 rounds; Sny­der got off nine ar­mor-pierc­ing bul­lets, one of which pen­e­trated Casper’s bal­lis­tic vest. And when it was over, Sny­der lay dy­ing of a gun­shot wound to his back.

“Bad guy is down,” a dis­patcher re­ported.

Casper col­lapsed and then dropped his gun. March 24 was his first solo day on the job — and his last. Shot three times, he be­came the youngest law en­force­ment of­fi­cer killed in the line of duty in Wis­con­sin his­tory. Casper is among 31 of­fi­cers this year who have been shot to death by per­pe­tra­tors, ac­cord­ing to the Of­fi­cer Down Me­mo­rial Page. He was hailed as a hero for stop­ping Sny­der, who had mag­a­zines of am­mu­ni­tion tucked in his socks and left a man­i­festo promis­ing “to go down fight­ing hard.”

Sny­der’s killing, as doc­u­mented in in­ter­views and po­lice re­ports, is among the 800 fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice so far this year. As the tally con­tin­ues to grow, so does pub­lic de­bate and crit­i­cism over po­lice use of deadly force.

But only a small num­ber of the shoot­ings — roughly 5 per­cent — oc­curred un­der the kind of cir­cum­stances that raise doubt and draw pub­lic out­cry, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis by The Wash­ing­ton Post. The vast ma­jor­ity of in­di­vid­u­als

shot and killed by po­lice of­fi­cers were, like Sny­der, armed with guns and killed af­ter at­tack­ing po­lice of­fi­cers or civil­ians or mak­ing other di­rect threats.

Jim Pasco, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the na­tional Fra­ter­nal Or­der of Po­lice, said The Post’s find­ings con­firm what po­lice of­fi­cers al­ready know.

“We know that anec­do­tally, be­cause typ­i­cally that’s why po­lice of­fi­cers choose to use deadly force,” said Pasco, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion in­cludes 335,000 of­fi­cers na­tion­wide. “Th­ese are cir­cum­stances where their lives or the lives of cit­i­zens around them are in im­mi­nent dan­ger.”

In 74 per­cent of all fa­tal po­lice shoot­ings, the in­di­vid­u­als had al­ready fired shots, bran­dished a gun or at­tacked a per­son with a weapon or their bare hands, ac­cord­ing to an anal­y­sis of ac­tions im­me­di­ately pre­ced­ing the shoot­ings, which draws on re­ports from law en­force­ment agen­cies and lo­cal me­dia cov­er­age. Th­ese 595 cases in­clude fa­tal shoot­ings that fol­lowed a wide range of vi­o­lent crimes, in­clud­ing shootouts, stab­bings, hostage sit­u­a­tions, car­jack­ings and as­saults.

Six­teen per­cent of the shoot­ings came af­ter in­ci­dents that did not in­volve firearms or ac­tive at­tacks but fea­tured other po­ten­tially dan­ger­ous threats. Th­ese shoot­ings were most com­monly of in­di­vid­u­als who bran­dished knives and re­fused to drop them.

The 5 per­cent of cases that are of­ten sec­ond-guessed in­clude in­di­vid­u­als who po­lice said failed to fol­low their or­ders, made sud­den move­ments or were ac­ci­den­tally shot. In 4 per­cent of cases, The Post was un­able to de­ter­mine the cir­cum­stances of the shoot­ings be­cause of lim­ited in­for­ma­tion or on­go­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

Much of the pub­lic out­cry about po­lice use of deadly force be­gan in Au­gust 2014 when a white po­lice of­fi­cer shot and killed an un­armed black teenager, Michael Brown, af­ter a strug­gle in Fer­gu­son, Mo. A grand jury de­clined to in­dict the of­fi­cer. Of the 800 peo­ple killed by po­lice this year, al­most half have been white, a quar­ter have been black and one-sixth have been His­panic.

The Post is track­ing all fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice while on duty in 2015. Re­cently, the FBI and the U.S. at­tor­ney gen­eral ac­knowl­edged weak­nesses in their own count­ing of fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice and an­nounced plans to more thor­oughly col­lect data.

To iden­tify trends among the shoot­ings, The Post stud­ied whether the in­di­vid­u­als were un­armed or armed with weapons and re­viewed the ac­tions they took in the im­me­di­ate mo­ments be­fore po­lice shot and killed them.

Of the 595 cases in which a per­son fired a gun, bran­dished a gun or at­tacked an of­fi­cer or in­di­vid­ual with a weapon or bare hands:

The most com­mon type of en­counter — 242 fa­tal shoot­ings by po­lice of­fi­cers — oc­curred when in­di­vid­u­als pointed or bran­dished a gun but had not yet fired the weapon at a per­son.

The next-largest group — 224 shoot­ings — in­cluded sit­u­a­tions sim­i­lar to the one that led to Casper’s death: an in­di­vid­ual fir­ing a gun at a po­lice of­fi­cer or a by­stander. The Post found that in 87 per­cent of th­ese cases, the gun­fire was di­rected at po­lice of­fi­cers.

In 129 of the fa­tal shoot­ings, in­di­vid­u­als at­tacked po­lice of­fi­cers or civil­ians but had no gun. They were armed with weapons such as knives, hatch­ets, chem­i­cal agents and ve­hi­cles. Of th­ese, 70 per­cent of the at­tacks were di­rected at po­lice.

First day solo on the job

With a pop­u­la­tion of 43,000, Fond du Lac is about half­way be­tween Mil­wau­kee and Green Bay. Here, there were no protests and no mo­ments of se­condguess­ing af­ter Casper’s de­ci­sion to shoot and kill Sny­der.

Ele­men­tary school­child­ren mailed stacks of hand-drawn cards to the troop­ers, and boxes of free piz­zas were de­liv­ered to their post. Sup­port­ers tied rib­bons to a lo­cal bridge and shone blue lights at night to honor Casper’s sac­ri­fice.

“There are so many peo­ple who have 30-year ca­reers and never have this hap­pen to them,” said Clarissa Just­mann, a trooper who re­sponded to help Casper. “Trevor was on the job, by him­self, for one day. And you just sit there, and you just won­der how this hap­pened.”

Casper grew up in the ru­ral Wis­con­sin com­mu­nity of Kiel, pop­u­la­tion 3,747. He was 5 feet 7 inches tall, with an av­er­age build, blue eyes and light blond hair. He wres­tled and played soc­cer and was a big brother to his sis­ters, Olivia and Lau­ren.

Af­ter high school, he stud­ied crim­i­nal jus­tice at Lakeshore Tech­ni­cal Col­lege. Casper ap­peared in a pro­mo­tional video in 2014 to talk about the school’s pro­gram. In the piece, he con­ducted mock field-so­bri­ety tests, wres­tled down a per­pe­tra­tor and hosed off a fel­low of­fi­cer with wa­ter af­ter he was pep­per­sprayed.

The in­ter­viewer asked him about the risks he might face in this line of work: “Are you ever wor­ried?”

Casper paused and smiled. He ad­mit­ted he had been a lit­tle ner­vous.

“I know that when I go out there, I’m al­ways look­ing around, I’m al­ways safe,” he said. “It could hap­pen, but I think it’s kind of . . . I don’t know how to say it . . . but go­ing out and help­ing peo­ple and putting a pos­i­tive im­pact on peo­ple’s lives, I think it would be worth it.”

Kevin Casper, 52, re­mem­bers the day in June 2014 that his son found out he had made it into the cadet class of the Wis­con­sin State Pa­trol. He came out of the house — nearly fly­ing — into the back yard to share the news. They jumped and yelled and hugged each other.

In De­cem­ber, he grad­u­ated in the top half of his cadet class. Be­cause of his good grades, Casper got his top choice for his first post: Fond du Lac, just 45 min­utes from his home town.

He spent his first 14 weeks on the job with field train­ing of­fi­cers. He would then get the chance to ride solo for the first time.

The fam­ily trav­eled down to Fond du Lac to visit with Trevor the week­end be­fore the big day. Late that Fri­day af­ter­noon, Kevin gave Trevor a hair­cut in his apart­ment kitchen. He asked him whether he was ner­vous.

Trevor spun around in his chair to face his fa­ther. “I’m not ner­vous at all,” he told him. “I can’t wait. This is what I want to do.”

The fam­ily took Trevor to din­ner at Friar Tuck’s, a lo­cal restau­rant. He or­dered a half­pound burger and fries. They vis­ited af­ter­ward at his apart­ment and then headed home.

A few days later, on Tues­day, March 24, Casper was sched­uled to start his shift at 3 p.m. When he went to get into his pa­trol car out­side his apart­ment, the bat­tery was dead.

Just­mann, then 23, lived a few doors down, so she stopped by to jump-start his car. Just­mann had been on the force just a year her­self. The two had be­come quick bud­dies, part of a self­de­scribed “wolf pack” of new troop­ers who forged a friend­ship over trivia nights.

The two chat­ted about Casper’s first day. She told him not to do any­thing too “dra­matic.” Just make some easy stops, as they call them, for loud ex­haust muf­flers or for dark-tinted win­dows. She would be out there, too, and she would stay nearby just in case he needed her.

Casper hit the road.

‘Armed and dan­ger­ous’

Hours north, in Marinette County, Sny­der had robbed a lo­cal com­mu­nity bank with a gun and or­dered em­ploy­ees to empty the vault and cash reg­is­ters. Out­side the bank, he stole a van and drove to where he had parked his get­away car.

There, he en­coun­tered 59year-old Thomas C. Christ, a grand­fa­ther who worked as a truck driver. Author­i­ties think that Christ may have con­fronted Sny­der be­cause he parked his car near Christ’s prop­erty. Sny­der shot Christ to death, leav­ing him in a ditch by the road.

Author­i­ties would later de­ter­mine that Sny­der had a vi­o­lent past.

Sny­der, who lived in Michi­gan and worked as a ma­son, had been in­volved with skin­head and neoNazi move­ments, re­flected in white-su­prem­a­cist tat­toos on his body. Friends told in­ves­ti­ga­tors that he was the “lone wolf” type — a man who be­lieved in an­ar­chy

held strong anti-gov­ern­ment sen­ti­ments.

He had at­tacked his es­tranged wife, grab­bing and hit­ting her head last Christ­mas. She sought treat­ment at an emer­gency room for the in­juries. At the time of the shootout, he was wanted in Michi­gan on a charge of ag­gra­vated as­sault be­cause of the in­ci­dent.

At­tempts to reach Sny­der’s fam­ily for com­ment were un­suc­cess­ful.

Af­ter his death, the FBI and Michi­gan author­i­ties would de­ter­mine that Sny­der was the man they had been search­ing for in a string of bank rob­beries. Us­ing DNA sam­ples, they linked him to nine bank rob­beries across three states since 2011. The FBI had dubbed him the “Re­spect­ful Rob­ber” for his eerily calm de­meanor and be­cause he re­port­edly held the door open for a woman dur­ing a holdup.

In his get­away car, author­i­ties would later find $137,960 from the rob­bery in Marinette County and a hand­writ­ten man­i­festo dated March 23. He vowed to be “re­lent­less and dan­ger­ous till the last breath I take.”

Sny­der texted good­bye mes­sages to friends and fam­ily on March 24. Author­i­ties tracked Sny­der’s phone elec­tron­i­cally and de­ter­mined that he was driv­ing south from the rob­bery and pass­ing through Oshkosh, just north of Fond du Lac.

“Bank rob­bery, homi­cide, Marinette County,” a dis­patcher said, pro­vid­ing a de­scrip­tion of the get­away car and the per­pe­tra­tor. “Armed and dan­ger­ous.”

Casper scoured the high­way for Sny­der’s car. About seven miles away, Just­mann and fel­low trooper An­drew Hyer, 37, kept watch in a cross­over. Casper saw the car first. The mo­ment is one Casper’s fam­ily re­vis­its again and again. What if he had glanced down to look at his phone? What if he had been else­where?

“Be­ing the first day, when the car came by, it would have been so easy to look the other way,” said his mother, Deb­bie Casper, 52.

Kevin stopped her. “That never would have hap­pened,” he said. “I know Trevor was watch­ing, and I know he wouldn’t have missed it.”

They both imag­ine their son sit­ting a bit taller in his pa­trol car, per­haps with a rush of adren­a­line and a sense of pride.

‘Please keep try­ing’

As Casper fol­lowed Sny­der’s car into Fond du Lac, his fel­low troop­ers raced to pro­vide backup. They ar­rived just as the shootout had be­gun. Just­mann re­mem­bers see­ing Casper in a full sprint chas­ing the sus­pect around the car. And she saw the fa­tal shot that killed Sny­der.

“I re­mem­ber see­ing Trevor hit this guy, and the bul­let went into this guy’s back,” she said. “I saw the shirt rip­ple, and there was an ex­plo­sion of gray fab­ric.”

She reached for the shot­gun in the trunk of her pa­trol car. She asked Casper if he was okay. He seemed winded, per­haps out of breath.

He grabbed onto the trunk of his car to steady him­self. Then, he fell. He dropped his gun to the ground. There was blood every­where.

“Trevor, stay with me!” Just­mann screamed.

Sny­der’s body lay nearby in the grass, with his right hand clench­ing his gun to his chest. An­other hand­gun was found nearby, along with 137 rounds of am­mu­ni­tion.

Capt. An­thony Bur­rell, then 48, ar­rived just as Casper had fallen. Hyer dragged Casper along the ground. Just­mann rolled him onto his side. She re­al­ized that he had been shot in his back. An ar­mor-pierc­ing bul­let had trav­eled through his bal­lis­tic vest, into his back and out his chest, ac­cord­ing to a dis­trict at­tor­ney’s re­port.

“We’ve got to get him out of here,” Bur­rell told the two troop­ers. They loaded him into the back of a pa­trol SUV, and as they sped from the scene, they saw paramedics parked nearby.

They trans­ferred Casper to the am­bu­lance and rushed to the lo­cal air­port, hop­ing to catch a Flight for Life he­li­copter to a trauma cen­ter close to Ap­ple­ton. Bur­rell paced in the air­port han and gar, wait­ing for them to load Casper in the he­li­copter. A nurse dressed in a flight suit told Bur­rell they were still work­ing on him in the am­bu­lance.

A few min­utes passed. Then the nurse pulled Bur­rell aside. Casper hadn’t made it, she told him.

“Please keep try­ing,” he said. “You have to keep try­ing.”

“There’s noth­ing more we can do,” she told him. Casper had lost too much blood.

Bur­rell cursed. One of the paramedics took off his gloves. He asked Bur­rell if he wanted a few min­utes alone in the am­bu­lance.

Bur­rell sat with his trooper. A white sheet cov­ered Casper’s body. With his right hand, Bur­rell lifted up the sheet. He stared at Casper’s face, now ashen. He said a prayer and then low­ered the sheet.

To­gether, they be­gan the 10minute drive to the hospi­tal.

‘The ul­ti­mate price’

The Caspers can’t re­mem­ber how they first heard of the shoot­ing. They think it was on­line or maybe on the lo­cal TV news. Deb­bie re­mem­bers search­ing Twit­ter and find­ing frag­ments of in­for­ma­tion. She called and texted Trevor. The fam­ily paced in cir­cles in the kitchen.

“You just keep hop­ing,” said Deb­bie. “You talk your­self into the idea that no news is good news.”

Deb­bie called Dave Funkhouser, the Kiel po­lice chief and a long­time fam­ily friend. She was pan­icked. He called the State Pa­trol post to get an­swers.

They told Funkhouser that Casper was dead. Top-rank­ing State Pa­trol of­fi­cials were rush­ing to­ward Kiel to tell the Casper fam­ily but were con­cerned that word would leak to lo­cal me­dia. They asked Funkhouser to quickly drive to the Caspers’ home.

It was dark out­side. Funkhouser saw Deb­bie wait­ing in the door­way. He placed his hand on her shoul­der and led her, along with Kevin and Olivia, to the liv­ing room. He sat on a loveseat, fac­ing the fam­ily on the sofa. He didn’t drag it out. Trevor died, he told them. That mo­ment, the chief re­mem­bers, was the worst in his 27-year ca­reer in law en­force­ment.

About 10 min­utes later, the Wis­con­sin State Pa­trol’s su­per­in­ten­dent, lieu­tenant colonel and chap­lain ar­rived at the front door.

In the dark, the fam­ily be­gan the 45-minute drive to Fond du Lac.

There, the troop­ers had fol­lowed the am­bu­lance to the lo­cal hospi­tal. The Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Jus­tice later re­leased dash-cam videos that cap­tured the con­ver­sa­tion in the pa­trol car be­tween the two troop­ers who wit­nessed the fa­tal shootout.

Hyer drove. Just­mann cried. He told Just­mann there are “bad peo­ple” in this world.

“We try to make it safer for ev­ery­one else. We try to do our part.”

“Yeah,” she said. “But, oh, my God.”

“It sounds like Casper was able to do some­thing about it,” he told her.

“He did,” she said. “He paid the ul­ti­mate price.”

They stood in St. Agnes Hospi­tal for hours, wait­ing out­side the room that held Casper’s body. All of Casper’s cloth­ing and per­sonal be­long­ings would be cat­a­logued, at first for the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and then, for his fam­ily to claim and di­vide among those who loved him.

Just­mann kept his Taser. She wanted a piece of him with her on duty. His younger sis­ter, Olivia, keeps one of his dress uni­forms in her bed­room closet.

‘His heroic sac­ri­fice’

As night fell on March 24, the top brass across Wis­con­sin de­scended upon the scene to be­gin a foren­sic anal­y­sis of how this had hap­pened to one of their own.

Ev­ery bul­let and ev­ery blood spat­ter would be­come ev­i­dence in the killing of Trooper Trevor Casper.

The state’s re­port would to­tal nearly 1,000 pages. A sec­ond re­port, from Fond du Lac Dis­trict At­tor­ney Eric Toney, would con­clude that “Casper elim­i­nated the threat posed to our com­mu­nity by the sus­pect” and that Casper was both “priv­i­leged and jus­ti­fied” in de­fend­ing him­self and oth­ers by us­ing deadly force.

“His heroic sac­ri­fice,” Toney wrote, and the loss to the Casper fam­ily “should never be for­got­ten.”

The lo­cal sher­iff, Mick Fink, ar­rived at the scene soon af­ter the shootout. As Fink looked around, the scene al­ready told the story. It was a bat­tle­field.

“Holy cow,” he thought. “This kid died fight­ing.”

COUR­TESY OF THE CASPER FAM­ILY

Trevor Casper was the youngest law en­force­ment of­fi­cer killed in the line of duty in Wis­con­sin.

MICHAEL SEARS/MIL­WAU­KEE JOUR­NAL SEN­TINEL

COUR­TESY OF THE CASPER FAM­ILY

TOP: Law en­force­ment from Wis­con­sin take part in a flag cer­e­mony dur­ing the funeral for Trooper Trevor Casper. ABOVE: Casper and class­mates share a mo­ment at the Wis­con­sin State Pa­trol Academy.

WHIT­NEY LEAM­ING/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Flags and flow­ers dec­o­rate Trevor Casper’s gravesite in his home town of Kiel, Wis. The grave­stone rec­og­nizes fam­ily and friends on one side and Casper’s sta­tus as a trooper on the other.

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