Almost five months ago, a South Haven police officer made a decision — in violation of department policies — that landed him under investigation by the Michigan State Police, and then on unpaid leave.
Responding to a 911 call in June, South Haven Officer Kevin Wildey pulled his gun and shot at a suspect’s vehicle as it drove away. But inside the SUV was the suspect's son, in the back seat, and a woman, in the passenger seat.
South Haven Police Chief Natalie Thompson said Wildey’s actions violated department policies.
“I would say that the manner in which the officer approached and handled the incident in its entirety,” did not follow department procedures, Thompson said.
The shooting was captured on video by Wildey’s body camera. Obtained by the Newschannel 3 I-team, the video shows Wildey pointing a weapon at the vehicle and ordering the driver to put his hands up. Instead, the vehicle pulls away and Wildey starts firing at it from behind.
Wildey was responding to a call from a woman who said that a man named Leo Berry had been pounding on her door. The caller said she knew Berry, and that he wanted money.
According to police reports, Wildey knew that Berry was wanted on several felony charges. Wildey also had dealt with Berry before at the same home.
Wildey said the suspect appeared to reach for a gun, and then turn the wheel in his direction. Wildey told Michigan State Police investigators that he shot at the vehicle "to stop from being run over."
In the video, however, Wildey is seen shooting after the vehicle passes.
Leo Berry was later found in the woods and taken into custody. In an interview, Berry told a South Haven police officer that he never swerved toward Wildey. He also complained that the officer’s gun shots put his son's life in danger. The officer responded: "Clearly shooting at the vehicle put everybody inside in danger, that's why we're taking this so seriously."
The Michigan State Police has investigated Wildey for felonious assault, but the Van Buren County prosecutor declined to press charges.
Wildey’s supervisor said, however, that hewill be disciplined for not following South Haven policy.
He's now on unpaid leave and will be reassigned when he returns.
“There were deviations from how we are trained and would typically handle what happened in this incident,” Thompson said.
South Haven's city manager said the officer’s actions are of great concern to city leaders.
“While police officers may, from time to time, use significant and even deadly force, such a decision should always be a last resort,” said Brian Dissette, the South Haven city manager.
Berry, who was wanted on a four-county felony warrant involving drugs, weapons and assault charges, is now in the Van Buren County jail. He also is facing obstruction of justice charges related to his arrest in June.