Jefferson County DA Finds Watertown Officer Justified In Fatal Shooting Incident

(Watertown) The Jefferson County District Attorney says no charges will be brought against the Watertown police officer who shot and killed a domestic violence suspect. In a press release, District Attorney Monica Hall says her office concluded its review of the incident and determined the actions of law enforcement were lawful and reasonable acts of self-defense.

On May 31st, officers had been looking for Thomas Sutherlin to question him about his involvement in a domestic incident. Later that evening, police located Sutherlin after initiating a traffic stop on a vehicle he was a passenger in. Hall says Officer Pedro Gallegos arrived on scene as backup. She says Sutherlin gave officers a fake ID and declined multiple requests to step out of the vehicle. Dash cam footage from a squad car showed that Gallegos and a second officer told Sutherlin to not put his hands in his pocket. Additional body-cam footage from Gallegos recorded him saying calmly (quote) “he’s got a knife in his front pocket.” The second officer was captured demanding Sutherlin to show his hands.

Hall says Sutherlin did not show his hands, instead he bent over. She says while both officers initially removed their handguns, Gallegos re-holstered his weapon and took out his Taser. Gallegos then pointed it at the suspect, and after another failed exchange to get Sutherlin to show his hands, shot the 32-year-old with the Taser. Hall says Gallegos was captured a short time later saying there was a gun. She says he dropped the Taser and ran, telling the second officer he saw the gun in Sutherlin’s hand.

Squad car footage showed Sutherlin rising from the backseat of the vehicle, holding the gun and firing in the direction of Gallegos. A second shot from Sutherlin was fired, shattering the vehicle’s rear windshield. Hall says Gallegos and the second officer fired 13 shots in rapid succession. Three other individuals who were still in the vehicle during the shooting and were unharmed. Hall says when police approached the vehicle a black handgun was found on the floor in the front of Sutherlin. She says officers removed Sutherlin and started life-saving measures. He was later transported to a nearby hospital where he died.

An autopsy revealed that Sutherlin died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. No other gunshot wounds were found on his body. Hall says crime lab anaylsis of one of the bullets fired from Gallegos’ gun showed it was responsible for Sutherlin’s death. She says Sutherlin’s phone showed pictures of the handgun he used in the incident and a text exchange from where he purchased it.

 

Read the full press release:

Jefferson County District Attorney Monica J. Hall announced today that the actions of law enforcement officers on May 31, 2020 were lawful and reasonable acts of defense of self and others. Therefore, there will be no criminal charges in relation to the incident resulting in the death of Thomas J. Sutherlin on May 31, 2020 in the City of Watertown, Jefferson County, Wisconsin.

Wisconsin law allows all persons, including police officers, to use deadly force in an act of self-defense or defense of others if the person reasonably believed that he or another person face an unlawful interference that created a risk of death or great bodily harm. If, as here, the person’s actions are privileged under the law of self-defense/defense of others they cannot be convicted of any crime.

The incident surrounding the death of Thomas J. Sutherlin was investigated by the Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) of the Wisconsin Department of Justice. Reports and video evidence from Watertown Police Department were provided to the Jefferson County District Attorney for review. After consideration of the evidence provided in this case and the circumstances surrounding the incident, I found there is no evidence that a crime was committed by any law enforcement officer in this case. I, therefore will not be filing any criminal charges in this matter.

On May 31, 2020 a Watertown Police Officer (hereinafter referred to as “the Officer”) conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle in the parking lot of a gas station in the City of Watertown, Jefferson County, WI. Video from the Officer’s squad shows that during that traffic stop, the Officer asked all four of the occupants of the vehicle for identification. He took the identification cards back to his squad. The Officer believed the identification the passenger in the rear seat behind the driver provided was fake. Watertown Police Officer Gallegos arrived as back up. The Officer showed Officer Gallegos the identification of the passenger in the rear seat behind the driver, and he agreed it was fake.

Video footage from both squad cameras and Officer Gallegos’ body camera showed both Officers approached the vehicle from the rear. The Officer approached the driver’s side. Officer Gallegos approached the passenger’s side. Both officers remained on the side of the vehicle, near the back windows. Officer Gallegos’ squad video showed the rear window on the passenger’s side was slightly less than halfway down.

The Officer’s squad camera and Officer Gallegos’ body camera captured the Officer asking the passenger in the rear seat on the driver’s side to step out of the car. That individual was identified as Thomas J. Sutherlin (hereinafter Sutherlin). Sutherlin did not get out. Every time he was asked to step out, he responded, “No thank you.” The Officer tried to open the car door

where Sutherlin was sitting, but it was locked. The Officer asked Sutherlin to open the door. Sutherlin looked in his wallet and tried to hand the Officer another card. The Officer informed Sutherlin the ID he provided was fake, which was why he was asking Sutherlin to get out of the car. Sutherlin was wearing a red bandana around his face and a baseball style cap on his head. This occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic when face coverings were normal. Officer Gallegos was wearing a face covering as well.

The video from the Officer’s squad and Officer Gallegos’ body camera show both officers asking Sutherlin to not put his hands in his pocket and to take his hands out of his pockets. The videos showed both officers shined their flashlights into the car. Officer Gallegos is heard saying in a calm voice, “He’s got a knife in his front pocket, just so you know.” The Officer demands, “Show me your hands, now.” Officer Gallegos demands, “Dude, show us your hands.” Both officers demand multiple times that Sutherlin show them his hands. Sutherlin did not show his hands, but rather bent over.

The Officer’s squad footage showed the Officer removed his handgun from its place on his duty belt. Officer Gallegos’ squad camera showed he removed his handgun from his duty belt, but he put that back and took out his taser. The Officer’s squad footage and Officer Gallegos’ body camera show Officer Gallegos put his taser into the vehicle through the half-open window on the rear passenger side, and pointed the taser at Sutherlin. Officer Gallegos again told Sutherland to show him his hands. Officer Gallegos then fired the taser. Sounds of pain were captured on the Officer’s squad footage and Officer Gallegos’ body camera. Officer Gallegos’ body camera footage shows Sutherlin was visibly in pain.

The Officer’s squad footage and Officer Gallegos’ body camera captured the officers telling Sutherland to get his hands out of his pockets. The Officer backed up to the rear of the vehicle and a few feet away from it, remaining on the driver’s side of the vehicle, but behind it. Officer Gallegos started to back away, but then looked into the car through the rear passenger window. Officer Gallegos announced that there is a gun, turned and ran, dropping the taser. Officer Gallegos was to Sutherlin’s right and behind him when this happened. Officer Gallegos said he saw the gun in Sutherlin’s hand.

Officer Gallegos’ squad footage shows the rear passenger’s side passenger ducking. The Officer’s squad video shows Sutherlin turned in the backseat, raised his arm, holding the gun. Sutherlin fired the gun to the right, in the direction of Officer Gallegos. It appears as if the bullet hit the lower portion of the rear windshield. Analysis later showed the bullet made a hole in the middle of the car in the lower portion of the rear windshield. The bullet from that shot was found in the trunk of the vehicle. Officer Gallegos’ squad footage shows Sutherlin fired the gun a second time, shattering the windshield. There is a spray of glass visible outside the car, indicating the bullet moved from inside the car to the outside of the car. The spray came from the far side of the rear windshield on the driver’s side, near the top. The rear windshield was shattered, but remained in place. The inside of the car was no longer visible through the shattered rear windshield.

On the Officer and Gallegos’ squad video and Gallegos’ body camera, 13 shots can be heard firing in rapid succession. Both squad videos show six shots appeared to hit the rear windshield in different places concentrated on the driver’s side. One appeared to hit the trunk close to the windshield. Later analysis showed 12 of the 13 shots hit the back of the vehicle, trunk and rear windshield, all on or near the rear driver’s side. The 13th shot was later found to have hit the hotel across the street. Officer Gallegos’ body camera footage showed Officer Gallegos fired the shots from the area between the two squad cars, near the rear of them. The squads were

parked behind the vehicle. Officer Gallegos called shots fired and informed dispatch that there were three other occupants in the vehicle.

On the Officer’s squad video and Officer Gallegos’ body camera, Officer Gallegos can be heard calling out, asking “Are you guys okay?” The Officers started calling orders to have the people in the car raise their hands. The other three individuals in the car were ordered out one at a time. They were unharmed. When only Sutherlin remained in the car, Officer Gallegos and another Officer from Watertown Police Department approached the car behind a shield. They opened the rear driver’s side door. A black handgun was found on the floor in front of Sutherlin. Officers removed Sutherlin from the vehicle and started life saving measures.

Analysis of Sutherlin’s phone showed pictures of the handgun from this incident and a text exchange from when he purchased the handgun.

An autopsy was performed at the University of Wisconsin Pathology Department on June 5, 2020. The autopsy revealed Thomas J. Sutherlin died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. There were no other gunshot wounds found on his body.

Crime lab analysis of the baseball cap Sutherlin was wearing during this incident showed characteristics consistent with a bullet passing through it. The area surrounding the hole on the left side of the cap was ripped, torn and had a stellate pattern. The area around the hole on the left side of the cap was processed, and lead was found. Presence of lead in this area is consistent with the passage of a bullet into the cap from that left side and is consistent with the muzzle of the firearm against or near the cap when the firearm was fired. Given the facts of this case, that is consistent with Sutherlin’s using his own gun to fire the bullet close to his head that caused his death. It is inconsistent with one of the bullets from Officer Gallegos’ gun being responsible for his death.

For these reasons, I find the facts in this case do not support probable cause to believe Officer Gallegos committed a crime.

Monica J. Hall

District Attorney Jefferson County, WI