VALPARAISO — A Portage police officer has been cleared of any wrongdoing in the April 22 shooting death of a local man during a traffic stop.
"Officer (Grant) Crizer responded appropriately to the situation and his decision to discharge his weapon was done in the course of reasonable self-defense as a result of the actions taken by (William) Spates," according to a prepared statement from Porter County Prosecutor Brian Gensel.
Portage Police Chief Troy Williams said in a prepared statement that Gensel's determination, "confirms that the response our officer took that evening based on Mr. Spates' actions were absolutely legal and justified just as I had expected."
Pointing out that Spates had been arrested more than 20 times over the last 20 years, Williams said, "Mr. Spates attempted to murder our officer by running him down with his vehicle."
Gensel revealed new details Friday about the events leading up to and during the shooting. The details are based on an investigation of the shooting by the Porter County Sheriff's Department and Indiana State Police.
After Spates was arrested April 19 on charges of domestic battery and strangulation involving family members, he "made comments to the transporting officer about not wanting to live if he was taken away from his family and asking what it would take for the officer to shoot him," Gensel said.
Spates was taken to jail where he was read the terms of an order preventing any further contact with his wife and their children, according to the press release. He was also prohibited from being in the area of the family home on Brown Street in Portage.
"While incarcerated, Spates violated the no-contact order by attempting to call his wife numerous times," Gensel said. "The two spoke briefly during some of the calls and Spates was agitated and despondent."
Spates bonded out of jail on April 21 and was supposed to stay in East Chicago with his mother.
Crizer stopped a vehicle driven by Spates at 1:47 a.m. April 22 for allegedly disregarding a stop sign at Brown Street and Mulberry Avenue, Gensel said. Spates pulled into a driveway on Royal Street.
"Spates gave false identification information and appeared very emotional, indicating that he 'messed up' and didn’t want to go back to jail," Gensel said.
Spates reportedly ignored repeated requests by the officer to exit the vehicle, instead starting up the car in an attempt to leave. Crizer activated his Taser and struck Spates in the arm, according to the investigation.
"Spates put the vehicle in reverse and rammed Crizer's vehicle parked behind him in an attempt to push it out of the way," Gensel said. "Crizer had to jump out of the way to avoid being hit by the open door.
"Crizer went to the front of the vehicle with weapon drawn and continued to order Spates to comply," Gensel said. "At that point, Crizer observed Spates reach for the gear shift, believing that Spates intended to put the vehicle in forward and hit him. Crizer was boxed in by a fence and had no room to escape. He fired eight shots through the windshield and passenger window. Spates died from the gunshot wounds."
Evidence collected from the scene, witness reports and statements from Spates' family about his recent state of mind back up the officer's story, Gensel said.
Williams said, "While his family and friends mourn his death, I am thankful that our officer had the skills and training to survive this encounter. If not for Mr. Spates' own actions — let me say that again, Mr. Spates' own actions — he would still be here."
"Officer Crizer will have to live with the decisions Mr. Spates chose that evening," Williams said.
The Portage Police Department Shooting Review Board also found the shooting to be justified, Williams said.