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Officers cleared, suspect charged in Superior shooting

Superior Police Department detectives William Braman, left, and Chris Moe, pointing, look over the scene on East Ninth Street in Superior after an officer-involved shooting on Friday, Oct. 5. A prosecutor on Tuesday determined that the officers were justified in their actions. Jed Carlson/jcarlson@superiortelegram.com

Three Superior police officers were legally cleared while the man they shot and injured was charged with five crimes.

Barron County District Attorney Brian Wright said Tuesday that officers were justified in using deadly force against 19-year-old Joshua Michael Farmer after he threatened to kill them, ignored their commands and produced a wrench that he claimed was a gun on Oct. 5 in the city’s Central Park neighborhood.

Wright reviewed the case, which was led by the Wisconsin Department of Justice’s Division of Criminal Investigation, at the request of Douglas County District Mark Fruehauf.

In releasing Wright’s decision, Fruehauf said he was charging Farmer with three felony counts of threatening a law enforcement officer with a dangerous weapon, as well as misdemeanor counts of obstructing an officer and retail theft. A warrant was issued for his arrest Tuesday.

Farmer was shot by officers George Gothner, Michael Kendall and Christopher Woolery during a confrontation on the 300 block of East Ninth Street. Farmer, who had been identified as a suspect in a nearby shoplifting incident, suffered non-life-threatening injuries when he was struck by six of their 31 combined shots.

A window at 309 E. Ninth St. appears to have multiple bullet holes in it after a shooting in Superior. file / Superior Telegram

Documents released Tuesday indicate that Farmer sought to be killed by officers that day, stealing an alcoholic beverage from a business before threatening officers with what he later described as a “fake gun.”

“The information gathered in the investigatory file leads to only one conclusion,” Wright wrote in a seven-page memorandum. “(Officers) acted in self-defense to protect themselves and their fellow officers from what they reasonably believed was an actual and imminent threat of death or great bodily harm they faced if Mr. Farmer carried through on his threat that he had a gun and that either he or they were going to die.”

Wright said squad and body camera videos corroborated the incident as described by the officers.

The videos and other investigative material was not immediately released. Citing the pending case against Farmer, DOJ spokeswoman Rebecca Ballweg told the News Tribune that her agency needed to review which records could be released in accordance with state pretrial publicity guidelines.

Superior Detective William Braman takes a photograph of debris and personal belongings on the sidewalk on East Ninth Street.

According to Wright’s report and the criminal complaint against Farmer:

Woolery responded to the Dollar General store, 216 Belknap St., on a shoplifting report just after 11 a.m. A manager reported that a man wearing a dark shirt with a hoodie had left the store and was holding an alcoholic drink.

Woolery found a suspect matching the description in the residential area behind the store and activated his body camera. The man, later identified as Farmer, began staring at the officer. Farmer was holding a can of alcohol and had his left hand in his pocket.

Woolery approached Farmer, who immediately said something like, “I’m not going to do it,” or, “This isn’t going to happen.” Farmer refused to answer questions about the theft or take his hand out of his pocket, prompting the officer to radio for backup.

Woolery drew his pistol and took cover behind his squad car. Both Kendall and Gothner arrived on scene, also activating their body cameras and drawing their weapons.

Officers again ordered Farmer to take his hand out of his pocket, but he refused, saying he wasn’t going to be arrested. He continued to sip from his beverage and added, “You know what is going to happen.”

Asked what he had in his pocket, Farmer replied, “You know what I got.” Asked if it was a gun, he said yes.

“Mr. Farmer told the officers that he was going to shoot them or they were going to shoot him,” Wright reported. “One of the officers asked Mr. Farmer why he wanted to die and Mr. Farmer said he was not going back to jail.”

Farmer then said, “Sorry to ruin your day, guys,” and turned toward Woolery. He made a “rapid movement” with his left hand, pulling a metal object from his pocket. Farmer had one finger pointed toward the front of the object and another in a rear position, “like he had a gun.” He then pointed the object at officers.

All three officers, reporting they feared for their lives, opened fire. Farmer initially remained on his feet and began moving toward the officers. Kendall again fired his weapon, dropping Farmer to the ground. The officers said he again raised the object from a sitting position, prompting the three to fire additional shots, finally knocking him flat to the ground.

Realizing Farmer did not actually have a gun, the officers began life-saving measures. Farmer remained alert, telling officers to stop performing care and let him die. An eight-inch adjustable wrench was found at the scene.

Superior police officers walk by an ambulance where emergency personnel work on a man who was shot on East Ninth Street.

Farmer was treated at St. Luke’s hospital in Duluth for wounds to his face, left chest, right elbow, right thigh, left calf and both feet. It was determined that Gothner fired 15 rounds, Kendall fired 13 shots and Woolery fired three times.

At the hospital, Farmer said he intentionally stole the beer, drank it and was waiting for police to come. He recalled ignoring police commands and pulling out a wrench, which he described as a “fake gun.” A search of his phone also found that he had been researching suicide methods.

Wright said the conduct of the officers was “professional and clearly intended to try and resolve the incident without injury to Mr. Farmer.”

“The officers had no reasonable opportunity to use other alternatives,” he wrote. “They were faced with a man who insisted he had a gun and was going to use it.”

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