By Phillip Smith
A prosecutor in northern Michigan has cleared the police officer who shot and killed a Grayling man as police and Child Protective Services (CPS) employees attempted to seize his three-year-old. The attempted removal of the minor child came after a police officer who came to the scene on a call earlier that same day reported that he smelled marijuana and reported the incident to CPS authorities, who decided the child needed to be removed. The dead man, William Reddie, 32, becomes the 17th person killed in US domestic drug law enforcement operations so far this year.
[Editor's Note: This case illustrates the difficulties that arise in determining which deaths qualify as being a direct result of drug law enforcement. Police here were enforcing child protections laws, not drug laws, but the only reason CPS was called in was because of the allegation of marijuana use. There was no allegation of crazed behavior due to marijuana use; only the allegation of use. For Michigan CPS authorities, that was enough to remove the child. Bottom line: This guy died because the state tried to take his kid because he was accused of smoking pot, so he merits inclusion. That doesn't mean his own actions didn't contribute to his death.]
Reddie's killing took place on February 3, but we only became aware of it when news broke this week that prosecutors had decided that the police officer's use of deadly force in the incident was justified.
According to the Crawford County Avalanche, Grayling police Officer Alan Somero was called to Reddie's apartment for an alleged domestic disturbance. Somero made no arrests, but believed he smelled marijuana and reported it to CPS. Two CPS employees went to Reddie's apartment to check on the situation. They then got a court order to remove Reddie's 3-year-old son, Cameron, and asked police to escort them to the apartment to serve the court order.
The Gaylord Herald-Times, which obtained the CPS removal order, added more detail. It reported that Reddie had been accused of smoking marijuana in front of his son, and that Reddie had become "agitated" and threatened police when confronted by that accusation earlier in the day.
The court order gave the following reason for removing the child: "There are reasonable grounds for this court to remove the child(ren) from the parent... because conditions or surroundings of the child(ren), and is contrary to the welfare of the child(ren) to remain in the home because: It is alleged that the father used marijuana in the home in the presence of the child. In addition, there is concern for the safety of the child due to a domestic disturbance and threats made toward law enforcement by the father."
Returning to the Avalanche's narrative, when police and CPS workers arrived to seize the child, Reddie then reportedly displayed a pocketknife and lunged at them. Crawford County Deputy John Klepadlo shot and killed him. Police had been deploying Tasers, but holstered them and grabbed their guns when Reddie displayed the knife.
Crawford County Sheriff Kirk Wakefield then asked the Michigan State Police to investigate his deputy's use of deadly force. The Michigan Attorney General's Office referred the case to the neighboring Roscommon County Prosecutor's Office. After receiving a report from the State Police, Roscommon County DA Mark Jernigan determined that the use of deadly force was justified and that Klepadlo would not be charged with any crime.
"The deceased was in possession of an edged weapon," Jernigan said. "The deceased pulled a knife and hid it behind his back. At the point where he pulls his hand forward and lunges at the officer, he is in such close proximity, and presents a clear danger of deadly force, the officer is left with no option other than to use deadly force to protect himself, the other officer and the three civilians that were present. The use of deadly force is completely justified and therefore, the homicide was justified."
Toxicology reports, which were included in the final investigation, showed there was no marijuana or alcohol in Reddie's system when he was killed.
Reddie had been seeking permanent custody of his son and was due in court for a hearing on that matter three days after he was killed.
"They took the only thing he ever loved," Reddie's mother, Michelle VanBuren, told the Avalanche after the prosecutor's announcement.
VanBuren said she was baffled by the conduct of authorities, especially since no evidence or alcohol or marijuana use was found. She said she had been in contact with her son throughout that day.
"I was on the phone with my son all day, and that cop was bullying him and harassing him so badly," she said. "Where was protect and serve?" VanBuren asked. "The officers always have to stick together and for them to do this is just totally uncalled for."
VanBuren said the family would continue to fight to ensure that CPS and law enforcement are held accountable for their actions. "They need to be held accountable and they will be held accountable, believe you me," she said.
Reddie's family is not alone in questioning police and CPS actions. "I can't believe they (police) could not subdue Will without killing him, and over what, marijuana," said Joanne Michal, who knew Reddie for half of his life. "Why didn't police just arrest him or cite him for marijuana instead of removing his child?" she told the Herald-Times.
"It is particularly sad that Will was shot to death right in front of his son," Michal continued. "Why not use a Taser? Even if he (Will) had a knife and lunged at police, they didn't have to kill him. Instead of using a Taser, you shoot him in front of his child. It is just totally unjustified. They didn't have to kill him. I think it's very sad that his life was taken during the removal of his son. And the smell of marijuana shouldn't have been a reason for an emergency order. Just a few days before he was killed, Will was visiting, and he was so excited because a hearing was coming up for custody. And it seemed to give him hope of getting permanent custody. His son was everything to him."
Crawford County Clerk Sandra Moore said she also knew Reddie. "It's truly a shame," Moore said. "He was a good guy and very fond of his son. He had been very excited just days before" about gaining permanent custody.
Cameron Reddie is now in foster care. His father's family is seeking visitation rights.
Meanwhile, Deputy Klepadlo, who had been on administrative leave after the shooting, is back on the job.