JEFFERSON — No criminal charges will be filed against police officers in connection with a fatal shooing during a May traffic stop in Watertown.
Jefferson County District Attorney Monica J. Hall announced Monday afternoon that the actions of law enforcement officers on Sunday, May 31, were lawful and reasonable acts of defense of self and others.
Therefore, there will be no charges filed against Officer Pedro Gallegos relating to the death of Thomas J. Sutherlin, 32.
A six-year veteran of the Watertown Police Department, Officer Gallegos, has been on administrative leave during the investigation of the shooting by the state Department of Justice Division of Criminal Investigation.
The shooting took place after Watertown officers initiated a traffic stop for a burned-out taillight. They had been looking for the subject to question him about his involvement in a domestic incident, and during the stop, a Taser was deployed, but not effective. Gunshots were fired within the vehicle and officers returned fire.
Officers immediately began life-saving measures on Sutherlin and paramedics later transported him to a nearby hospital, where he died from his injuries.
District Attorney Hall stated that Wisconsin law allows all persons, including police officers, to use deadly force in an act of self-defense or defense of others if the person reasonably believed that he or another person face an unlawful interference that created a risk of death or great bodily harm. She added that if, as in this case, the person’s actions are privileged under the law of self-defense/defense of others, they cannot be convicted of any crime.
DCI reports and video evidence from the Watertown Police Department were provided to Hall for review.
“After consideration of the evidence provided in this case and the circumstances surrounding the incident, I found there is no evidence that a crime was committed by any law enforcement officer in this case,” Hall said. “I, therefore will not be filing any criminal charges in this matter.”
According to the incident report, on May 31, a Watertown officer conducted a traffic stop of a vehicle in the South Church Street Kwik Trip parking lot. Video from the officer’s squad shows the officer asking all four occupants for identification, and then taking the identification cards back to his squad car.
“The officer believed the identification the passenger in the rear seat behind the driver provided was fake,” according to the report. “Watertown Police Officer Gallegos arrived as backup. The officer showed Officer Gallegos the identification of the passenger in the rear seat behind the driver, and he agreed it was fake.”
Video footage from both squad cameras and Gallegos’ body camera shows both officers approaching the vehicle from the rear, the original officer on the driver’s side and Gallegos on the passenger’s side. Both remained on the side of the vehicle, near the back windows. Gallegos’ squad video showed the rear window on the passenger’s side was slightly less than halfway down.
The officer’s squad camera and Gallegos’ body camera captured the officer asking the passenger in the rear seat on the driver’s side, later identified as Sutherlin, to step out of the car. Sutherlin did not get out, and every time he was asked to step out, Sutherlin responded, “No thank you.”
“The officer tried to open the car door where Sutherlin was sitting, but it was locked,” the report said. “The officer asked Sutherlin to open the door. Sutherlin looked in his wallet and tried to hand the officer another card. The officer informed Sutherlin the ID he provided was fake, which was why he was asking Sutherlin to get out of the car. Sutherlin was wearing a red bandana around his face and a baseball-style cap on his head. This occurred during the COVID-19 pandemic when face coverings were normal. Officer Gallegos was wearing a face covering, as well.”
The video from the officer’s squad and Gallegos’ body camera show both officers asking Sutherlin to not put his hands in his pocket and to take his hands out of his pockets. Both officers shined their flashlights into the car.
“Officer Gallegos is heard saying in a calm voice, ‘He’s got a knife in his front pocket, just so you know.’ The officer demands, ‘Show me your hands, now.’ Officer Gallegos demands, ‘Dude, show us your hands.’ Both officers demand multiple times that Sutherlin show them his hands. Sutherlin did not show his hands, but,rather, bent over,” the report states.
The officer’s squad footage showed that the officer removed his handgun from his duty belt. Officer Gallegos’ squad camera showed he removed his handgun from his duty belt, but he put that back and then took out his Taser. The officer’s squad footage and Officer Gallegos’ body camera show Gallegos put his Taser into the vehicle through the half-open window on the rear passenger side, and pointed it at Sutherlin. Gallegos again told Sutherland to show him his hands, and then fired the Taser. Sounds of pain were captured on the officer’s squad footage and Officer Gallegos’ body camera, the latter showing that Sutherlin was visibly in pain.
The officer’s squad footage and Gallegos’ body camera captured the officers telling Sutherland to get his hands out of his pockets. The officer reportedly backed up to the rear of the vehicle and a few feet away from it, remaining on the driver’s side of the vehicle, but behind it. Officer Gallegos started to back away, but then looked into the car through the rear passenger window. He announced that there is a gun, turned and ran, dropping the Taser. Officer Gallegos was to Sutherlin’s right and behind him when this happened. Gallegos said he saw the gun in Sutherlin’s hand.
“Officer Gallegos’ squad footage shows the rear passenger’s side passenger ducking,” the report continues. “The officer’s squad video shows Sutherlin turned in the backseat, raised his arm, holding the gun. Sutherlin fired the gun to the right, in the direction of Officer Gallegos. It appears as if the bullet hit the lower portion of the rear windshield. Analysis later showed the bullet made a hole in the middle of the car in the lower portion of the rear windshield. The bullet from that shot was found in the trunk of the vehicle. Gallegos’ squad footage shows Sutherlin fired the gun a second time, shattering the windshield. There is a spray of glass visible outside the car, indicating the bullet moved from inside the car to the outside of the car. The spray came from the far side of the rear windshield on the driver’s side, near the top. The rear windshield was shattered, but remained in place. The inside of the car was no longer visible through the shattered rear windshield.”
On both officers’ squad videos and Gallegos’ body camera, 13 shots can be heard firing in rapid succession and six shots appeared to hit the rear windshield in different places concentrated on the driver’s side. One appeared to hit the trunk close to the windshield. Later analysis showed 12 of the 13 shots hit the back of the vehicle, trunk and rear windshield, all on or near the rear driver’s side. The 13th shot was later found to have hit the hotel across the street.
“Officer Gallegos’ body camera footage showed Officer Gallegos fired the shots from the area between the two squad cars, near the rear of them,” the report states. “The squads were parked behind the vehicle. Officer Gallegos called (in) shots fired and informed dispatch that there were three other occupants in the vehicle.”
On the officer’s squad video and Gallegos’ body camera, Officer Gallegos can be heard calling out, asking, “Are you guys OK?” The officers started calling orders to have the people in the car raise their hands, and the other three individuals in the car were ordered out one at a time. They were unharmed.
“When only Sutherlin remained in the car, Officer Gallegos and another officer from the Watertown Police Department approached the car behind a shield,” the report said. “They opened the rear driver’s side door. A black handgun was found on the floor in front of Sutherlin. Officers removed Sutherlin from the vehicle and started lifesaving measures.”
Analysis of Sutherlin’s phone showed pictures of the handgun from this incident and a text exchange from when he purchased it.
An autopsy performed at the University of Wisconsin Pathology Department on June 5 revealed Sutherlin died as a result of a gunshot wound to the head. There were no other gunshot wounds on his body.
“Crime lab analysis of the baseball cap Sutherlin was wearing showed characteristics consistent with a bullet passing through it. The area surrounding the hole on the left side of the cap was ripped, torn and had a stellate pattern. The area around the hole on the left side of the cap was processed, and lead was found,” according to the report. “Presence of lead in this area is consistent with the passage of a bullet into the cap from that left side and is consistent with the muzzle of the firearm against or near the cap when the firearm was fired.”
“Given the facts of this case, that is consistent with Sutherlin’s using his own gun to fire the bullet close to his head that caused his death. It is inconsistent with one of the bullets from Officer Gallegos’ gun being responsible for his death,” Hall said. “For these reasons, I find the facts in this case do not support probable cause to believe Officer Gallegos committed a crime.”