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Police chief, deputy cleared in fatal shooting

Montcalm County Prosecutor Andrea Krause announced last week that Howard City Police Chief Steven DeWitt and Montcalm Sheriff Deputy Clay Thomas both acted in self-defense in the fatal shooting of Gulf war veteran Matthew Speese, 47, of Reynolds Township, earlier this month.

Montcalm County dispatch received a call on June 1, about 5:45 p.m., from the Veterans Crisis line requesting a well-being check on Matthew Speese, 20585 Gates Rd, because he was threatening to kill himself. They also said that Speese said he would shoot police officers if they responded.

Michigan State Police Troopers Delyn Rice and Corey Zimmerman were the first officers on scene. Trooper Rice was about 80-100 yards from the residence when Speese came out on to the porch with a long gun. She attempted to make contact through the PA system on her car, but he did not respond. She relayed information to dispatch that there was a barricaded gunman situation and more officers responded.

A perimeter was soon set up around the residence. Troopers Rice and Zimmerman backed up towards the road after seeing the gun, and because the driveway dog-legged to the left, they could not see the residence. Howard City Police Chief Steven DeWitt and Officer McQueen were on the east side of the residence, and Trooper Jason Medley and Deputy Clay Thomas were on the west side.

When Chief DeWitt first arrived, he saw Speese come out of the residence onto the front porch and start yelling and screaming in his direction. He heard Speese say he had a high-powered rifle and he was going to shoot them. Speese then retreated into the residence.

While still in the driveway Chief DeWitt noticed a second story window open and an object protrude out that appeared to be a gun.  At that same time he heard via radio from Central Dispatch that Speese was on the phone with Dispatch and told them he had “a superior firing position on them and was going to shoot us (police).”

Trooper Gary Wilson, a trained negotiator, made contact with Speese over the phone. He was reportedly belligerent. Speese advised, “It will be dark soon and I have my camo on, I’m going to be hunting cops soon, and no one knows these woods like I do.”  He also said he was “a real Marine, not a 4-year Marine in basic training.” He also said he had “a bead on everyone” and that they were the enemy. Dispatch also contacted Speese and asked him to exit the residence but he refused.

Central Dispatch later advised that Speese would only talk to the Howard City Police Chief.  Chief DeWitt advised Central Dispatch to tell him that he would talk to him but he had to come out of the residence unarmed, and that they were not there to arrest him or hurt him. Speese failed to comply.

After approximately 1-½ hours from the time of the original call, Chief DeWitt saw Speese exit the residence, and march down the driveway like he was on a mission, in the direction of Troopers Rice and Zimmerman.  He had what looked like an assault rifle in his hands and was holding it at waist level pointed straight ahead down the driveway.  He was yelling something about shooting the cops.  Chief DeWitt starting yelling, “Police Officer, drop your gun!  Drop your gun! Drop your gun!” Chief DeWitt repeatedly yelled for Speese to drop his gun; however Speese kept marching down the driveway toward the other officers who could not see Speese or hear what was going on. Speese did look at Chief DeWitt, who kept repeating his commands to drop the gun, but Speese did not stop and kept walking with gun held in both hands leveled waist high.

Based on his observations, training, and experience, Chief DeWitt knew what Speese was going to do based on his demeanor. He also realized that he would soon lose sight of Speese due to the narrowing of the driveway and heavy wooded coverage on both sides, so he fired one round at Speese from his department issued .223 rifle. It is unclear whether that round hit Speese or not. Speese immediately took cover behind a tree with his rifle now pointed in the direction of Chief DeWitt.

Chief DeWitt continued to yell at Speese. He said, “Matthew, it doesn’t have to be like this. We’re not here to hurt you. Just put the gun down.” Speese replied, “I’m not going to put the &*%$ gun down.”  He also started yelling about shooting or killing the police again. He then leveled the gun from around the tree toward Chief DeWitt.

At this time Deputy Thomas had made his way to the southwest corner of a pole building that was just north of the residence. He saw Speese crouched down behind the tree with his long gun pointed in the direction of Chief DeWitt. Deputy Thomas immediately shouted “Sheriff’s Department, drop the weapon.” Deputy Thomas was approximately 40 feet away from Speese at this time. Speese dropped his head and cursed. In one quick motion, Speese stood up turning toward Deputy Thomas and threw his long gun toward Deputy Thomas and then began to reach toward his waistband. Deputy Thomas saw a silver and black object in Speese’s left hand, which he believed to be a weapon. Speese continued to reach toward his waistband and Deputy Thomas thought he was reaching for another weapon. In fear for his life, Deputy Thomas fired once from his AR 15, departmental issued rifle. Speese continued to reach for his waistband so Deputy Thomas fired two additional rounds. Speese then fell to the ground. Deputy Thomas heard Chief DeWitt yell that Speese had a handgun as well.

Chief DeWitt also fired two additional shots toward Speese after he saw Speese stand up and point the long gun at the other officer.

While down on the ground, Speese continued to have his right hand near his waistband. Both Chief DeWitt and Deputy Thomas commanded Speese several times to take his right hand away from his side. He was alive but would not comply. Several more Officers approached Speese while he was down on the ground. An object was removed from his hand that turned out to be a large Gerber black and silver folding knife. The long gun that Speese had been carrying was a black .22 caliber/.410 gauge over/under rifle/shotgun. It was fully loaded with two live rounds, one .22 caliber and the other was a .410 slug.  In the butt of the gun were additional live rounds of .22 caliber rounds and .410 slugs.
EMS, who had staged nearby, was called to the scene and Speese was transported to Spectrum Health Butterworth where he was pronounced dead. Dr. Stephen Cohle performed an autopsy at Spectrum-Blodgett on June 2, 2011. He concluded that Speese died as a result of the gunshot wound to the left side of his head.

“Based upon a review of the facts and the law, it is clear that Mr. Speese presented an immediate danger of death or great bodily harm to Deputy Thomas and/or Chief DeWitt and/or the officers at the end of the driveway.  As such both Deputy Thomas and Chief DeWitt acted properly in self-defense,” said Montcalm Prosecuting attorney Andrea Krause.

“Rather than comply with police commands, Speese escalated the situation by continuing to be actively aggressive even when face to face with the barrel of Deputy Thomas’ rifle,” explained Krause. “Even when down on the ground he still refused to take his hand away from his waistband where another potential weapon was stored. Under these circumstances, Deputy Thomas and Chief DeWitt were justified in using deadly force against what would be perceived by any reasonable person as an imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.”

This was not the first time Speese had threatened suicide. He also had an incident last year while camping where he became irrational and mentioned killing himself and committing suicide by cop. He later spent time in the VA Hospital.

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