Grand Jury Clears SWAT Officers in Fatal Shooting of Man Who Stole Semi-Truck
Van Wert County, OH – A Van Wert County grand jury has cleared four Allen County SWAT team members of any wrongdoing in the deadly shooting of a Spencerville man who stole a semi-truck and led police on a high speed chase last month.
On Thursday, evidence in the fatal shooting, which occurred along U.S. 30 on September 3, 2019, was heard by the grand jury.
Special Prosecutor Joe Burkhard, of Paulding County, said jurors heard nearly two hours of testimony and quickly determined that four members of the SWAT team acted appropriately and within the scope of their duties when they shot and killed Terry Pierce Jr. following a two-hour, multi-county chase.
“We presented quite a bit of evidence,” Burkhard said. “Det. Brian Hannenkratt of the Paulding County Sheriff’s Office was the lead investigator, and he did a wonderful job of tracking down information. He left no stone unturned, and it was a very complete case that we presented.”
Burkhard said the jury’s decision not to indict anyone marks the end of the case.
“As far as I’m concerned, this ends the investigation,” he stated.
The decision to use lethal force has come under scrutiny by critics in the days following the incident.
The SWAT officers had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
In a news release from the Allen County Sheriff’s Office, their identities were made public for the first time.
They are Deputy Justin Kirk, hired in September, 2008; Deputy Barry Friemoth, hired in November, 2014; detective Corey Hanjora, hired in September, 2012; and Sgt. Josh Bayer, hired in May, 2013.
According to evidence in the case, Spencerville Police officers attempted to stop a stolen semi-truck, driven by Pierce, at approximately 8:11 a.m. on September 3, in Spencerville, after a reported “criminal complaint” from GLM Transport in Van Wert.
Pierce refused to stop and led police from multiple agencies, including the Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Van Wert County Sheriff’s Office, on a 2-hour pursuit.
Officials made numerous attempts to stop the vehicle.
When deploying stop sticks failed to disable the truck, officers began shooting the remaining tires, but it still didn’t bring the semi to a stop.
During the course of the chase, Pierce engaged officials in 12 profanity-laced 9-1-1 calls.
The duration of the calls lasted more than an hour and the calls have since been released.
During the calls, Pierce made numerous threats of violence, but also said he didn’t want to hurt anyone.
However, during a conversation with Sgt. Kyle Miller, the acting chief of the Spencerville Police Department, Pierce indicated he wanted to force officers to kill him.
“This is the route we’re taking. I will make every one of you shoot me dead, Kyle. That’s how tired of life I am, brother,” he said.
Officers eventually opened fire on Pierce after he was deemed to be an “imminent threat to the safety of citizens.”
According to a preliminary autopsy report, Pierce died as the result of two gunshot wounds to the chest.
The report also revealed Pierce was shot by SWAT officers twice in the back and once in the left ankle.
Small-caliber ammunition rounds were recovered, one from each side of Pierce’s chest, after puncturing his lungs, the report says.
One bullet passed through Pierce’s pulmonary artery.
The truck came to rest at approximately 10:04 a.m. in the eastbound lanes of travel near the intersection of U.S. 30 and Feasby Wisener Road in Van Wert County.
What Motivated Pierce?
Pierce’s motivation for stealing the truck and leading police on the chase is not completely clear.
Records show he was previously charged with an array of offenses going back as far as 1991.
In July 2018, he was charged with domestic violence.
In August of 1991, he was charged with assault.
He also had various traffic violations, including driving under suspension, according to Lima Municipal Court records.