Family of Hillsdale County man fatally shot by deputy seeks state probe

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Relatives of a man fatally shot in April by a Hillsdale County Sheriff’s deputy are calling on state officials to intervene after the county prosecutor declined to authorize charges.

An attorney for Oscar Herrera’s family last week sent a letter to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel asking her office “to ensure a thorough, expeditious, and impartial investigation and decision on whether the officer responsible should face criminal charges and prosecution.”

Ian Fallon, the attorney with the Chicago-based firm Romanucci & Blandin LLC, wrote that the family’s “confidence that a local prosecutor is committed to seeking justice for Oscar has been shaken.”

Oscar Herrera

Reached Tuesday, Lynsey Mukomel, a spokeswoman for Nessel’s office, said a probe “would only come to the Department when and if the Hillsdale County Prosecutor’s Office requests a special prosecutor resulting from its own findings. That has not happened.”

In an email, Hillsdale County Prosecutor Neal Brady said he “would not discourage their review of the facts” but has already determined the deputy’s actions were warranted.

The deputy was dispatched to Herrera's home in the 6500 block of South Edon in Reading at about 7:45 p.m. April 28 on a "dog-at-large complaint," Michigan State Police reported.

"When the deputy made contact at the residence of the dog, the deputy was immediately attacked by the dog..." and bitten, the agency said at the time. "The deputy fired shots at the dog, which resulted in killing the dog."

Angered about the shooting, Herrera confronted the deputy while armed with a knife, state police said. The deputy shot him.

Herrera, 32, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. The deputy received medical treatment for a dog bite and was placed on administrative leave as state police investigated the incident.

The family's lawyers soon called on authorities to release body cam footage. Investigators have said they would not do so publicly, but Herrera's family and Fallon were granted a private viewing in May, the company said.

In his letter to Nessel last week, Fallon said Herrera had been spending time with his 13

year-old pet, Rico, and both were “inside the home and not bothering anyone” when the deputy arrived to respond to a neighbor’s complaint about the dog roaming. 

“There was no evidence that Oscar had committed any crime or municipal code violation,” he wrote.

Fallon said the body cam video showed Herrera comply with the deputy’s request to get on the ground after the dog was shot. 

Herrera questioned Rico’s shooting and asked “if the deputy is also going to shoot him,” the lawyer wrote. “For several minutes, the deputy had his Taser trained on Oscar. Ultimately, Oscar takes two steps toward the officer, the officer draws a pistol, and shoots six bullets in Oscar’s direction, striking him three times.”

In a June statement after the family viewed the recording, Herrera’s cousin, Melina Lesus, said the “deputy should have responded with some basic human compassion” because the dog had died violently. “Instead, the officer escalated the situation, and Oscar lost his life, as well. This just never should have happened, and Oscar should be alive and with us today.”

According to a state police incident report The News obtained, an investigator wrote that the deputy “took actions consistent with a deadly force assault on a police officer" when Herrera confronted him. "This can be seen on the body worn camera video.”

A neighbor told state police he saw a shirtless Herrera “agitated and walking back and forth” as the deputy “had his gun drawn but pointed at the ground … trying to calm the male down,” the report stated.

The witness said he saw Herrera initially kneel then “stand up and charge aggressively at the officer,” who fired multiple shots. Another neighbor told state police she also watched Herrera move “like he was going to attack” the deputy, according to the report.

A black folding knife with a 2.75-inch blade was recovered at the scene, state police said in the document.

Michigan State Police completed the probe and turned over the findings to Brady’s office for review in June.

On Tuesday, Lt. Brian Oleksyk, a public information officer with the Michigan State Police's First District, told The News detectives learned late last month the prosecutor’s office had determined there was no criminal wrongdoing by the deputy involved.

“After reviewing all the evidence provided… I concluded that (the deputy’s) decision to shoot (Herrera) was justified in order to save himself from death or great bodily harm,” Brady said Tuesday.