UPDATE: No charges for officer who shot, killed Spirit Lake man with gun and blowtorch in hand, FBI says
UPDATED AT 8:25 P.M.
FORT TOTTEN, N.D. -- Federal prosecutors will not file charges against a Bureau of Indian Affairs officer who shot and killed a man in June on the Spirit Lake Reservation, finding the officer was “legally justified” in opening fire on the man.
Officer Terry Morgan shot and killed Joseph Charboneau of rural Fort Totten while carrying out a warrant June 16 at a Fort Totten residence. Officers stated Charboneau pointed a loaded firearm at them and did not follow officers’ orders to drop the weapon during a seconds- to minutes-long standoff with officers, according to Assistant U.S. Attorney Keith Reisenauer.
The FBI investigated the incident and sent reports, taped and transcribed interviews, the autopsy report and photos related to the shooting to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Dakota to decide whether charges should be brought against Morgan. There was no video evidence -- Morgan was wearing a body camera the night of the shooting, but it was not functioning at the time, Reisenauer said.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Tuesday it found Morgan acted within the limitations of the law in firing his service weapon at Charboneau because the 31-year-old posed a “real and immediate” threat to officers and another person at the scene.
Under federal and state laws, law enforcement officers are generally allowed to use deadly force to prevent what reasonably poses a threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or others.
Officers are not required to run away as civilians generally are required to do before resorting to deadly force.
Four officers were searching 7141 Crow Hill Road in Fort Totten for a person for whom they had a warrant to arrest when they found Charboneau under a blanket in the living room with a .40-caliber Glock in his hand, Reisenauer said.
Charboneau pointed the gun at the officers during the altercation, which “happened very quickly,” Reisenauer said.
Citing documents from the investigation, Reisenauer said officers asked Charboneau to drop the gun multiple times, but Charboneau did not comply. He also picked up a “propane blowtorch,” which was on a nearby shelf, during the standoff and threatened to use it, though not necessarily on the officers, Reisenauer said.
The other person in the residence, for whom the officers had the arrest warrant, told detectives she heard officers telling Charboneau to drop a gun, Reisenauer said.
He said Charboneau did not make any verbal threats.
“He didn’t say, ‘I’m going to shoot you’ or ‘I’m going to kill you,’” Reisenauer said.
Reisenauer declined to say what was said between officers and Charboneau.
Charboneau did point the gun at officers, threatened to use the blowtorch and did not obey officers’ orders, Reisenauer said.
After Charboneau did not drop the gun, Morgan shot Charboneau four times, once in the chest, twice in the left shoulder and once in his left abdomen, Reisenauer said, citing the autopsy report. Charboneau accidentally shot himself in the right knee in reaction to being fired upon, Reisenauer said.
Reisenauer could not say where the gun was pointed at the time of the shooting.
“Officer Morgan, confronted with an individual holding a firearm at close range, and refusing to comply with orders to drop the weapon, was reasonable in his use of deadly force because Mr. Charboneau posed an immediate and continuing threat to the officers and others,” a news release from the U.S. Attorney’s Office in North Dakota says.
Reisenauer did not know to whom the gun was registered.
Charboneau’s autopsy report did not show any alcohol or drugs in his system, Reisenauer said.
Questions about Morgan’s history as an officer were referred to a Washington, D.C.-based spokesperson, who did not return calls to the Herald by press time.