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July 03, 2012 | 12:52 PMELKHORN — A Walworth County Sheriff's deputy is being returned to active duty after clearing an investigation into the May 5 shooting death of John Brown, 22, of 1463 Meadow Lane, in the Country Estates subdivision, town of Lyons.
A letter received by the Regional News in an e-mail early Monday evening from the Walworth County Sheriff's Department indicates that, after reading investigation reports from the state Division of Criminal Investigation and the Walworth County Sheriff's Office, District Attorney Phil Koss has determined the fatal shooting of Brown by Deputy Wayne Blanchard was in self defense and defense of others, and therefore justified.
The letter was addressed to James C. Holmes, special agent with the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation.
According to Koss' letter, the investigation by state and Walworth County authorities determined that Brown had been drinking that evening and sent angry and suicidal messages to friends and an ex-girlfriend through Facebook, e-mail, text messages and voice mail.
According to an incident report released shortly after the shooting, Brown was shot twice at close range when he advanced on the two sheriff's deputies while brandishing a knife. The shooting occurred in the mobile home where Brown and his mother lived.
The report said Blanchard ordered Brown to drop the knife.
Brown reportedly replied, "You're going to have to shoot me."
Koss said Brown spoke those words loud enough that he was heard not only by deputies, but by his mother, as well.
Brown was shot, the report said, when he refused orders by officers to drop the knife.
The knife was recovered from the scene by Deputy Timothy Ruszkiewicz, and was "fully extended," implying it was a folding blade.
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It was described as a "SWAT" type knife. Koss wrote that he saw the knife and agreed with the description.
However, Koss does not describe the knife in the letter. A check of Internet sources turned up nothing formally called a SWAT knife. However, there is a class of knives with blades from 3 to 12 inches long called "tactical folding knives."
Whether that was the weapon Brown brandished at the deputies is unclear.
What is reported is that Brown approached Blanchard with the knife, "moving in an upright position."
Both deputies described Brown having a "1,000-yard stare" as he approached them, Koss wrote.
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Brown got to within 5 or 6 feet of Blanchard before he fired twice. Brown was hit twice and mortally wounded.
Koss said the space within the mobile home was tight.
The hallway leading from the kitchen to Brown's bedroom was slightly wider than 2-1/2 feet.
The distance from Brown's computer chair to the bedroom door was 8 feet, Koss wrote.
Brown's door was locked when deputies arrived. Such announced himself as a deputy twice. Brown did not reply the first time. The second time he replied with an expletive.
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"We know that Mr. Brown had been drinking that night with a friend," Koss wrote. "That friend said that Mr. Brown seemed 'down' about a lot of things."
Koss said the autopsy report stated Brown's blood alcohol level was 0.182 percent.
Brown was not driving, but by comparison, state law says a person is considered too impaired to drive with a blood alcohol level of 0.08 percent.
In the letter, Koss recounted the events that led up to the shooting.
During the early morning hours of May 5, Sheriff's deputies Blanchard and Such were called to the Country Estates address by Nancy Brown, John's mother.
Nancy Brown called 911 and told a dispatcher, "I have a son who's trying to commit suicide."
Prior to the 911 call, Brown engaged in a number of text messages to a former girlfriend and her current boyfriend, Koss wrote. In those messages, which started about 9:37 p.m. Friday, May 4, Brown expressed anger at both of them. He claimed he wanted to fight the boyfriend, and, in texts to both of them, he said he hopes "their child dies."
The ex-girlfriend called the Burlington Police Department at 10:50 p.m. May 4 to file a complaint.
Burlington police then called Brown to tell him to stop.
At 11:13 p.m. Brown called a friend and left a voice mail saying he loved him and would be "looking down" and "bye."
He also sent text messages to friends that said:
"I love you … I won't be able to tell you tomorrow."
n "I'm saying goodbye, I'm sorry, but I can't do this anymore."
n "Too late."
n "Good bye."
n "Leave me alone, it'll make it easier."
n "Just accept it."
n "I won't be able to remember or forget in a little while." The last text 11:17 p.m.
At 11:41 p.m., he called another friend and told her he had cut himself and "I'm ending it tonight."
At 11:50 p.m., the friend called Nancy Brown and told her that her son was hurting himself.
Nancy Brown called 911 at 12:03 a.m. May 5.
At 12:07 a.m., Brown posted on Facebook, "I am so tangled in my sins that I cannot escape."
Blanchard and Such arrived at 12:10 a.m. They talked with Nancy Brown. Blanchard went to the bedroom door while Such went outside to Brown's bedroom window.
Nancy Brown offered Blanchard the key to her son's room, but Blanchard decided to kick the door in.
According to Koss, Blanchard told investigators he did this to prevent Brown from knowing he was opening the door. Blanchard was concerned that Brown would have time to prepare to hurt someone.
"This seems very reasonable under the circumstances," Koss said. "This is especially true given that Blanchard heard Mrs. Brown say 'why aren't you guys doing anything? My son could be killing himself in there.'"
Blanchard kicked open the door and saw Brown inside, but Brown slammed the door shut.
Such came back into the mobile home. Blanchard had his service pistol out.
Such holstered his service weapon and drew his Taser.
Blanchard opened the door a second time and ordered Brown to drop the knife.
Koss wrote that, from his experience dealing with other cases, being within 21 feet of a person armed with a knife was considered being in "the danger zone."
Blanchard was well within that zone when he shot Brown, Koss wrote.
"I believe that there is no other reasonable conclusion other than deputy Blanchard was attempting to prevent himself or deputy Such from being attacked with deadly force," Koss wrote.
Under that circumstance, either deputy would have been justified in using deadly force.
A Taser is not effective on a person coming at an officer at that short a distance, Koss added.