Posted on 31 March 2017.
Jonathan David Sper (Facebook photo)
By Judy Reed
The Kent County Prosecutor released his opinion Tuesday on whether a Kent County Sheriff Deputy acted reasonably in the January 24 shooting death of Jonathan David Sper, 30, in Algoma Township.
Based on all of the events that led up to the shooting, Becker feels that Deputy Jason Wiersma acted reasonably when he discharged his firearm, killing Sper. But using his gun was not Wiersma’s first attempt to subdue Sper; he had also used a taser, which had no effect.
Sper was released from the Kent County Correctional Facility on January 24, after having spent six days in jail for failing to pay for food he ordered at a Grand Rapids restaurant. He suffered from bipolar disorder and bipolar schizoaffective disorder, and had been trying to rehabilitate himself for the last 10 years.
Jonathan reportedly had a plane ticket to fly out to California later that night, and asked his roommate to drive him to his brother Jarred’s home on Summit Avenue in Algoma Township to drop off a box. They arrived at approximately 5:15 p.m., and were met by another brother, Stephen, who was staying at Jarred’s home. Jarred was in Florida at the time.
Stephen thought Jonathan was only dropping off a box, and not staying. The roommate thought he was dropping Jonathan off and that his brother would get him to the airport, so he drove away.
Stephen had a work conference call happening at 5:30 p.m., and Jonathan was not allowed at the home because he had become more and more unstable over the last 6-8 months. The two agreed that Jonathan would stay in the garage, since he wasn’t allowed in the home, and Stephen went in and got him a cup of coffee. When he brought it out, Jonathan was drinking one of the beers in the garage. When Stephen suggested he shouldn’t be drinking, Jonathan got belligerent with him. Stephen went inside and did his work conference call, which he cut short when he heard Jonathan ranting in the garage.
He tried several times to talk to Jonathan, but each time, he said Jonathan acted like he wanted to fight him. Stephen called his brother Jarred to find out what to do. He also called Jarred’s wife, Sara, who was due home with the children at 7 p.m. and told her not to come home. She suggested he call 911.
Before calling 911, Stephen went back into the garage to talk to him, and this time they struggled. Jonathan pushed past Stephen to get into the house, and Stephen pulled him back by the shoulders. During the struggle, Jonathan ripped Stephen’s coat nearly in half. Stephen managed to get back inside the house and call 911.
After he hung up, he realized that the keys to his brother’s truck had fallen out of his coat pocket during the struggle in the garage, and that there was a handgun in the console of the truck, which Jonathan would have access to. He called 911 to report that fact, and reiterated to them that he felt his brother was having a manic episode.
During that second call, Deputies John Tuinhoff and Jason Wiersma arrived on scene. Deputy Tuinhoff indicated that after listening next to the closed garage doors, he could hear keys jingling. So the two deputies entered the house from the front and spoke with Stephen, who told them that Jonathan had told him to get a gun and shoot him with it.
When the deputies approached Jonathan in the garage, he had nothing in his hands. Deputy Wiersma holstered his gun, and Tuinhoff had his taser pointed at him. Jonathan was mumbling to himself, appeared disoriented, and would not respond to verbal commands.
Jonathan walked toward the door of the home, and Deputy Wiersma asked him if was ok, and told him that he needed to check him for weapons. Deputy Tuinhoff said Jonathan began to swing his arms violently, beating Deputy Wiersma repeatedly on his head and body. Deputy Tuinhoff could not deploy his taser because of the struggle and instead tried to help physically restrain Jonathan.
But Jonathan was tall and quite strong, and the three of them stumbled towards the door to the house, with Jonathan still beating Deputy Wiersma, while trying to push him down the stairs. Deputy Tuinhoff tried to stop it, but the two went tumbling down 15 stairs to the basement. The fight continued at the bottom of the steps, and Wiersma deployed his taser at Jonathan, but it had no effect, most likely due to the clothing he was wearing.
Broken bottles and glass at the bottom of the basement steps may be the sharp object Jonathan Sper used to try to stab one of the deputies on the scene.
During the struggle at the bottom of the steps, Jonathan went unsuccessfully for Deputy Wiersma’s duty belt, and then struck the deputy on the back of the head with some unknown hard object. Deputy Tuinhoff attempted to grab Jonathan’s arm, and Jonathan jumped up on boxes, then struck Tuinhoff on the top left side of the head with a hard object, stunning him. Jonathan then jumped on him and tried to grab his gun as well. He then slashed at the deputy with a sharp object across his chest while laughing. The deputy tried to protect himself with his hands, and then Jonathan ran up the steps.
Deputy Tuinhoff told Wiersma he had been hit with something sharp, possibly a knife. Wiersma ran up the steps, and then Tuinhoff told him it might be a broken bottle instead. Evidence found later showed broken bottles at the bottom of the steps and a broken coffee cup.
Wiersma said that they ran towards the doorway leading to the house, which he could see was open. He said that Jonathan was just inside the house and turned to look at him, and gave him a crazed smile. Wiersma was about eight feet away, and said Jonathan was holding a sharp object of some kind at waist level. He said he backed up slightly and drew his pistol, and told Jonathan to drop the weapon. “At this point I knew the suspect’s brother’s life was potentially now in danger as well because the suspect now had access to the home once again,” said Wiersma. He went on to say that the suspect did not drop the weapon, but reached over with his left hand and slammed the door closed.
Becker said that Deputy Wiersma now felt that Stephen was in immediate danger of being attacked by Jonathan. Jonathan had struck him with some weapon, had attempted to stab Deputy Tuinhoff with something, and had attacked his brother previously, which led them to be dispatched to the home. Deputy Wiersma indicated that what was going through his mind was that Jonathan was in “a manic state of mind, my knowledge that he had used drugs and alcohol, his previous statement about having his brother shoot him, and currently being still armed with a dangerous weapon and possibly a gun, I had no other option than shooting to stop the suspect.” After the suspect slammed the door, Wiersma immediately fired four shots through the door, three of which struck Jonathan, with two of them being fatal.
“Applying the law to the facts as they occurred in this incident, it is clear that Deputy Wiersma was justified in using deadly force in the defense of another person,” stated Becker.
He said it was not surprising that the two officers could not subdue Jonathan, since it took four officers to subdue him in an incident at his parents home in May 2016.
While Tuinhoff was stabbed with something sharp, and Wiersma believed Jonathan had a weapon while at the top of the steps, he did not. Right in the area where the shooting occurred, keys were found in some shoes. This may be what the deputy mistook for a sharp object. They also did not know if he had the gun. He did not. It was found in the console of the truck.
“Under the law, the fact that the deputy was wrong about Jonathan being armed does not impact the decision. Based on the evidence, when he acted, Deputy Wiersma honestly and reasonably believed that Stephen was in danger of being killed or seriously injured. Because his belief was honest and reasonable, Deputy Wiersma could, and did, act at once to defend Stephen,” wrote Becker.
Both officers were injured during the struggle. Deputy Wiersma had a cut on the back of his head and a red mark on the back of his head near his left ear. There were abrasions on his knuckles, a large bruise on the front and inner portion of his thigh, and contusion on his elbow. He was treated for a closed head injury. Deputy Tuinhoff, had cuts on his hand, as well as cuts on his left forearm and abrasions on his hairline. He was also treated for a closed head injury.
“There is no question that this incident is directly attributable to the fact that Jonathan had suffered from severe mental illness since the time he was 18 years of age,” noted Becker. “By all accounts, he was an intelligent, much loved son and brother, who would not engage in the sort of violent behavior he exhibited that night if he was not suffering from the effects of his severe mental illness combined with the consumption of alcohol. These manic episodes had occurred over Jonathan’s lifetime, he was impacted that night, and clearly was not in his correct state of mind when all of this occurred. This is a complete tragedy for everyone involved.”