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No charges to be filed in Grattan shooting

By Judy Reed

Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker issued a statement this week saying that the homeowner who shot a man who was attacking him did so in self-defense and no charges will be filed against him. 

The Kent County Sheriff’s Office was called to the scene of the shooting in the 7300 block of Parle Avenue in Grattan Township about 1:32 a.m. August 12. Deputies arrived on scene and located two victims with gunshot wounds—one was lying on the ground outside with a gunshot to his arm; the other was inside with a gunshot to the abdomen. A jeep was parked out front and quite a few people were in the yard. Jacob Vanenk, a 22-year-old male from Lowell, was transported to the hospital with nonlife threatening injuries. The second victim, Robert Morgan, a 44-year-old male from Belding, was transported to the hospital where he later died from his injuries.

According to Becker, the incident started earlier in the evening. Morgan owned a vacant lot nearby that had a fire pit, and his 20-year-old son was having a bonfire and party there. Witnesses stated that Morgan had driven over there in his jeep, which was quite loud, and had been giving people at the bonfire rides in it until quite late, and was revving his engine and driving rapidly down the dirt roads of the neighborhood. A video clip shows that to be the case. Evidence showed that he had been drinking.

The woman who lived at the home where the shooting occurred noted that Morgan went by her home several times that night, “flying around the corner,” and sending dirt and rocks flying toward her home. Her husband and child were already sleeping. Morgan had returned to his home, so the woman went there and told him his driving was throwing rocks at her home and asked him to stop. He immediately became combative and called her “trailer trash b—“ and threatened to “F*# her up,” so she went home. As she was leaving, he told her he was going to follow her home but she didn’t believe him. Five minutes later he turned up in her yard with his jeep as she sat outside on her steps.

According to witnesses, Morgan went over to the bonfire right after the woman left his house and asked people to go with him to confront someone who had complained about his jeep being loud. At least two people said that Morgan told them he was going to “whoop some ass.” 

Morgan drove his jeep directly up to the front door and was no more than 10 feet away from it. Jacob Vanenk, Morgan’s nephew, said that his uncle began an argument with the lady who was sitting outside. Another witness said he was screaming in her face and the lady got upset and went inside.

The woman went in and woke up her husband, who had been asleep since 9 p.m. She told him about the man outside threatening to “whoop everyone’s ass.” He got up and went outside to see a jeep running in his front yard next to his porch, and three men standing in the yard, with the oldest one (Morgan) “freaking out.” The man was calling his wife names, and the husband told Morgan to settle down. He also told his mother, who was staying at the home, to call 911. Morgan then began threatening the husband, and moved toward the house, so the husband, who is an Army veteran and valid CPL holder, then went inside to get his .40 caliber handgun.

The man took the gun outside and told the three to leave or he would shoot them. Instead, Morgan called him a name, told him he wasn’t leaving, and then rushed him. The two fell into the house, with Morgan putting the man into a headlock while trying to grab the gun. The man’s wife jumped on top of Morgan, trying to get him off her husband. 

The man decided he had no other option except to shoot Morgan since his 9-year-old daughter was sleeping in another room and he was being attacked in his own home.

Vanenk said he went to the doorway to get his uncle off the man, then heard a gunshot and felt something on his arm and saw blood running down his left arm, where he had been shot. 

The autopsy showed that a single bullet had passed through Morgan’s abdomen, and then struck Vanenk. Morgan died a few hours later at Spectrum Health. The autopsy showed his blood alcohol level at .12.

“This was an incredible tragedy,” wrote Becker. “One person is dead, another, who from the evidence presented to this office, did nothing more than go with his uncle to the home, and who may have tried to stop his uncle…was shot in the arm. This is a lesson in what can happen when an individual consumes too much alcohol; under normal circumstances Mr. Morgan would most likely not have acted the way he did that night.” 

Becker said that Morgan’s outbursts and his rushing the man in his own home, gave the man little choice but to fire his weapon. “Under the circumstances in this case, his belief that he needed to use deadly force to protect himself and his family was both honest and reasonable. No charges will be issued in this matter.”

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