A sheriff’s deputy was justified in fatally shooting an intoxicated Elkhorn man who drove a car at the deputy last October, the Walworth County district attorney said Friday.
In a letter released Friday afternoon, District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld wrote that Deputy Peter Wisnefsky was defending himself when he shot Sean A. Dutcher, 38, the night of Oct. 18, 2018.
Wisnefsky fired 10 shots, two of which hit Dutcher in the chest, Wiedenfeld wrote.
“I have formed the opinion that the shooting of Mr. Dutcher by law enforcement was privileged and a reasonable exercise of self-defense and defense of others,” Wiedenfeld wrote in a letter to Sheriff Kurt Picknell.
Wisnefsky has worked at the sheriff’s office since February 2016. He was on administrative duty since the shooting.
A Friday news release from the sheriff’s office states Wisnefsky “has been restored to full duty while the internal review of this matter continues.”
The following background was compiled from previous news releases, Wiedenfeld’s letter and released body-camera footage:
The night of Oct. 18, police were responding to a report from a “concerned citizen” who called 911 about a reckless driver who was driving from Waukesha County into Walworth County. The driver had almost side-swiped a "tractor trailer" and was swerving on the road.
Police located the black Hyundai Tucson at Highway 12/67 and Potter Road near the Elkhorn city limits. A pursuit involving multiple squad cars ensued.
Deputies tried several maneuvers to stop Dutcher’s car, finally stopping him near Brogan & Patrick Manufacturing, 515 E. Centralia St., Elkhorn.
Five squad cars then tried to box in Dutcher.
Wisnefsky got out of his squad car, which was “angled against the front driver’s side of the black Tucson,” the letter states.
Wisnefsky’s body camera footage shows him standing at the driver’s side front fender of his squad car, pointing his gun and three times yelling, “Put your f---ing hands up.”
After the third time, a law enforcement official opened the driver’s side door and tried to get Dutcher out of the car, but Dutcher reversed and then accelerated forward, striking the front of Wisnefsky’s squad car.
Wisnefsky then shot Dutcher, who was alone in the car. He died at the scene.
After Wisnefsky fired his gun, the Tucson crashed into the manufacturing facility.
“The evidence shows that Deputy Wisnefsky reasonably perceived Mr. Dutcher’s actions as an attempt to cause death or great bodily harm to Deputy Wisnefsky or another person,” Wiedenfeld wrote.
“Therefore, I believe that Deputy Wisnefsky was justified in using deadly force to protect himself and the other law enforcement officers who were attempting to remove Mr. Dutcher from the motor vehicle.”
Body camera footage shows Wisnefsky and other officers move into the facility. Wisnefsky leaves to grab a medical bag.
Deputy Gerardo Baca then takes Wisnefsky outside and appears to be trying to calm him.
“Alright, alright. Just, we’re good. We’re good,” Baca said.
Wisnefsky said more expletives as he waited outside.
“Did he hit you with the car?” Baca asked.
“No, I had to step out of the way to not get hit,” Wisnefsky responded.
“No, I know. I know. Well, I saw it,” Baca said.
At the time, Dutcher was on extended supervision as part of a sentence for a fifth-offense intoxicated driving conviction. His driver’s license was revoked.
Dutcher’s blood-alcohol concentration was 0.232, nearly three times the legal limit for driving. Because of his earlier convictions, Dutcher’s legal limit for driving was 0.02.
He also tested positive for Delta-9 THC, the active ingredient in marijuana.
An obituary for Dutcher said he was born in Burlington and was living in Elkhorn at the time of his death. Another obituary said he was a propane gas tank adjuster with two sons and a daughter.
The Gazette was not able to reach Dutcher's family or friends Friday.
The state Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigations and the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident. The department has posted investigative reports, including photos and videos, on its website.
Picknell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Wiedenfeld declined further comment Friday.
In his letter, he offered his “sincere condolences” to Dutcher’s family and friends.
“His death leaves a wake of frustration and sadness,” he wrote.
Another recent fatal shooting at the hands of Walworth County law enforcement involved a driver moving toward a deputy.
Nearly three years ago, Walworth County sheriff’s Deputy Juan Ortiz shot and killed Christopher J. Davis, who was in the passenger seat of a car driving toward the deputy.
While then-Walworth County District Attorney Dan Necci found Ortiz was justified in his shooting, Davis’ family is suing several officers and others, claiming “deliberate indifference and negligence” preceded the shooting.
This story was updated at 6:55 p.m. Friday.
Death was eighth fatal shooting since 2010
The shooting Oct. 18 was the eighth fatal shooting by law enforcement in Walworth County since 2010.
Below are details about those shootings, from most recent to oldest, according to police records obtained by The Gazette, previous reporting and decision letters from the district attorney’s office:
Oct. 18, 2018: Walworth County sheriff’s Deputy Peter Wisnefsky fatally shot Sean A. Dutcher in a vehicle after responding to a report of a reckless driver.
The vehicle was located at Highway 12/67 and Potter Road near the Elkhorn city limits, and a pursuit followed.
During an attempt to stop the vehicle, the vehicle came to a stop, and Wisnefsky exited his squad car. Dutcher drove toward Wisnefsky, and the deputy shot his weapon and struck Dutcher, who died at the scene.
Feb. 2, 2017: Kris Kristl was shot and killed after he pointed what was later discovered to be a BB gun toward sheriff’s Deputy Jesse Smith and Elkhorn police officer Robert Rayfield, according to a May 5 letter from Walworth County District Attorney Zeke Wiedenfeld.
Wiedenfeld wrote he would not be charging Smith or Rayfield, saying they were “justified in using deadly force” because they “reasonably” perceived a threat.
A “concerned citizen” had called 911 and reported a car that Kristl was driving was doing so erratically, Wiedenfeld wrote. The car was crossing over the center line and veering onto the unpaved shoulder of the road, the caller reported.
Kristl’s blood alcohol concentration was 0.26.
Kristl’s car eventually came to a stop. Smith then arrived and asked to speak with Kristl and the passenger in his car, Wiedenfeld wrote. While Smith spoke to the passenger, Kristl was pacing with his hands in his pockets.
Kristl began to walk away from Smith, which led Smith to grab Kristl by the arm, Wiedenfeld wrote. Kristl then pulled out “what appeared to be a black semi-automatic handgun” and pointed it at Smith’s face, the letter reads.
Smith and Kristl struggled over the BB gun until the two separated, Wiedenfeld wrote. Rayfield arrived and they both shot Kristl after he pointed the BB gun in the officers’ direction.
Kristl suffered five gunshot wounds to his head, chest, right upper arm, right thigh and right upper buttock, according to a state Department of Criminal Investigation case report.
Feb. 24, 2016: Christopher Davis, 21, of Milwaukee, was shot by sheriff’s Deputy Juan Ortiz when the driver of a vehicle Davis was riding in failed to follow commands from law enforcement during a drug investigation, according to police.
As law enforcement came to Roma’s Ristorante and Lounge, East Troy, Ortiz entered the parking lot and moved near the exit to avoid potential crossfire after he saw an officer draw his weapon and say, “Show me your hands,” according to a July 19, 2016, decision from then-District Attorney Dan Necci, who said the shooting was justified.
The driver, Jose Lara, saw police and accelerated the car toward the exit, and Ortiz fired his weapon while moving out of the way, Necci wrote.
After the first or second shot, Ortiz saw the car deviate from its path toward him, but the car still drove close enough to where he could have touched the driver’s side mirror, Necci wrote.
One of Ortiz’s shots hit Davis in the head. Davis was riding in the front passenger seat. Ortiz later told investigators he’d heard the car’s tires squeal and engine rev, and he felt his life would have been in danger if he had not acted.
After a chase at speeds exceeding 100 mph ended in Muskego, Davis was found in the car and taken to Froedtert Hospital, where he died an hour later.
Jan. 8, 2016: Two town of Geneva police officers shot Eric C. Olsen, 26, of the town of Geneva, after he used an ax to chop through a bedroom window and ran at police with a hunting knife, according to reports.
Officers Eric Anderson and Jason Sweeney were among officers who responded to a report of Olsen using an ax to chop through a juvenile’s bedroom window on West Lincoln Drive, town of Geneva.
Olsen reportedly told the homeowner he was “going to cut his head off” with a 4-foot ax. The homeowner and his son, armed with a metal crow bar and a hammer, respectively, called 911.
Officers arrived as the homeowner and Olsen were struggling with each other, according to reports.
Sweeney had a .223-caliber rifle and Anderson had a handgun. The two reportedly told Olsen “multiple times” to drop the 4-inch hunting knife he pulled out, according to witness interviews included in the report.
Olsen yelled expletives at the officers and said, “Shoot me,” and “I want to die,” while “waving the knife around,” according to a May 11, 2016, letter from Necci, who ruled the officers shot Olsen in self-defense.
Necci said the two officers fired a combined 11 shots.
Officers immediately performed life-saving measures and called EMS for Olsen, according to the report.
Olsen’s family disagreed with Necci’s decision.
“We are deeply saddened by the contents of these reports as we do not believe that they fully reflect the circumstances of the shooting, nor the events leading up to it,” Olsen’s parents, Chris and Betty Olsen, said in a written statement May 11, 2016.
June, 13, 2013: Necci cleared four Walworth County sheriff’s deputies in the shooting of Jeremiah B. Krubert, 39, Elkhorn, who was suspected of beating his mother’s boyfriend with a pipe, stealing a squad car and threatening deputies with a shotgun.
Deputies Todd Neumann, Jeffery Shaw, Wayne Blanchard and Garth Frami responded to a home invasion call at N7248 County O, Elkhorn. The home belonged to Krubert’s mother and her boyfriend.
Neumann arrived as Krubert was trying to leave in his mother’s boyfriend’s truck, according to Necci’s Aug. 6, 2013, letter. Krubert approached Neumann “holding a large blade knife in a threatening manner,” before Neumann shot at Krubert an “unknown number of times.”
Krubert kept approaching and began to say “Kill me, kill me,” as Neumann’s gun “experienced a mechanical failure,” Necci wrote.
Krubert then got into Neumann’s squad car and drove off.
Shaw, Blanchard and Frami pursued Krubert and found he had smashed into farm equipment.
Krubert then exited the stolen squad car with a shotgun from the squad when Shaw saw Krubert “appearing to attempt to chamber a round.” The three deputies fired their rifles and Krubert fell to the ground, according to documents.
Krubert died at the scene.
Court records indicated Krubert had a history of mental illness and previous arrests. Krubert claimed to have had a troubled childhood, according to probation records.
When asked to describe himself, Krubert wrote: “Healthy, athletic, generally good person, with a mental illness that has led me to behave criminally and ruined my life.”
Jan. 21, 2013: Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Lagle fatally shot Alfredo Emilio Villarreal, 18, of Janesville, who was a hospitalized jail inmate. He reportedly used a chair to try and smash the window and hit Lagle.
Villarreal had been arrested on suspicion of parole violation and in the early morning of Jan. 21, he was taken to the Aurora Lakeland Medical Center, Elkhorn, after staff found him unconscious in his cell, according to a March 22, 2013, Necci letter, which said Lagle was justified in using deadly force.
Later that evening, Villarreal was unshackled so he could use the bathroom. When Lagle went to re-shackle Villarreal, the teen kicked Lagle in the face and started punching him in the head, according to documents.
Lagle called for backup and the fight moved from Villarreal’s room to the hallway. Lagle tried to use his Taser but missed, Necci wrote.
Villarreal went back to his room and started banging a plastic and metal chair on his window to escape.
The teen then charged at Lagle with the chair.
“Fearing for his safety and the safety of others in the hospital,” Lagle fired five shots, Necci wrote. Three of the shots hit Villarreal in the torso.
The teen died at the scene.
May 5, 2012: Deputy Wayne Blanchard shot and killed John W. Brown, 22, after his mother called 911 because Brown was suicidal and had locked himself in his room with a knife.
Sheriff’s Deputy Christopher Such, armed with a Taser, was standing behind Blanchard before the two kicked down the door and entered Brown’s room, according to court documents.
Blanchard argued in court documents that Brown approached the two deputies with a knife. Blanchard fired two shots and killed Brown, according to documents.
Brown’s mother, Nancy Brown, settled a lawsuit Jan. 23 against the county for $1.1 million. In the settlement, the county and Blanchard denied any misconduct.
Nancy Brown was on the couch in the living room when the shooting took place, and the deputies were in or near John Brown’s bedroom, according to court documents.
“This was an individual who was looking for help. It was a cry for help,” Antonio Romanucci, Nancy Brown’s attorney on the lawsuit, said in February. “He should have been brought under control. He should have been brought to a hospital, brought to a doctor … This was a case on an emotional disturbance. Rather than being treated accordingly, he was treated with force, and he died unnecessarily.”
Brown suffered from bipolar disorder, according to the complaint filed by his mother.
July 13, 2010: Another suicidal subject, Roman Petriw, was shot by law enforcement after he failed to follow orders to drop his weapon, according to reports.
Then-District Attorney Phil Koss decided sheriff’s Deputy Scott Smith and town of Geneva officers Ken Mulhollon and Jason Sweeney acted in self-defense after their incident with Petriw.
Law enforcement was called to a residence where the property owner said Petriw was suicidal, according to reports. Officers and deputies found Petriw with two handguns.
Law enforcement officers told Petriw to drop the guns, but he instead shot himself in the torso, according to reports. He then dropped the guns, but then reached for the weapons.
Smith, Mulhollon and Sweeney then shot Petriw.
Smith reported hearing an officer saying “Don’t do it,” right before officers shot Petriw.
A childhood friend of Petriw’s, Lucian J. Lange, was going to take Petriw to a homeless shelter in Chicago on the morning of the shooting, but the two argued and Petriw pulled his two guns, according to previous reporting.