An Ashland County Sheriff’s deputy that shot and killed a Bad River teen will not face criminal charges.
Ashland County Sheriff’s Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot and killed 14-year-old Jason Pero on the Bad River reservation Wednesday, Nov. 8.
Special prosecutor and St. Croix County District Attorney Mike Nieskes reviewed the findings from the Wisconsin Department of Justice, and in a letter dated Friday, Jan. 19 to the DOJ, Ashland County Sheriff’s Office and Ashland County district attorney, Nieskes wrote the officer’s actions were "justified by the circumstances he found himself in."
The DOJ had said in its preliminary findings that the deputy shot Jason after the teen lunged twice at the officer with a large butcher knife.
In the letter, Nieskes outlined that the investigation showed Jason called 911 from his home phone with a report of a male walking around with a knife that matched the teen’s description. The prosecutor also noted there were no independent witnesses or video of the incident.
Jason refused repeated commands to drop the knife and advanced toward Mrdjenovich, according to a report from the Wisconsin Division of Criminal Investigation. The deputy fired one shot at the teen after Jason lunged at the officer from about 10 feet away. The teen lunged at the officer again and the officer fired a second shot, after which Jason reportedly said to Mrdjenovich, "I just wanted to die."
A knife found at the scene was consistent with knives found inside the Pero residence, according to Nieskes. An autopsy report showed Jason had what appeared to be self-inflicted cuts on his arms and that the teen had the powerful opioid fentanyl in his system.
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Ashland County Sheriff Mick Brennan declined to comment, but his office released the following statement:
"The Ashland County Sheriff’s Office has been notified that The Wisconsin Department of Justice has released the results of its investigation into the November 8, 2017 officer involved death of Jason Pero in Odanah, WI. We have also been notified that special prosecutor Michael Nieskes of St. Croix County District Attorney’s office has reviewed these files and will not be filing criminal charges against Ashland County Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich for his involvement in this tragic event.
We sincerely urge everyone to closely review the files and reports of the investigation conducted by the Department of Justice. The reports may be reviewed on the Wisconsin Department of Justice website. We are also examining the released reports at this time. The Sheriff’s Office is also deeply aware of the ways in which this incident has impacted the Bad River community and its relationship with law enforcement.
We are dedicated to rebuilding and restoring trust and a working relationship with the community at all levels through continued community policing, officer education and training, and proactive involvement with all citizens of Ashland County. Deputy Mrdjenovich will remain employed with the Sheriff’s Office. He will continue working assigned to limited administrative duties until all internal reviews have been completed."
The Bad River Tribal Council has said previously it did not agree with the DOJ’s preliminary findings. The tribe has requested a federal investigation of the shooting incident. The U.S. Department of Justice has declined to comment on whether it will investigate.
Editor's Note: This story was last updated at 8:41 p.m. Friday, Jan. 19, 2018, with additional reporting by WPR.