STARKE COUNTY — On Jan. 1, at approximately 1 a.m. EST, the Indiana State police (ISP) were contacted to investigate a police shooting action stemming from a vehicle pursuit that began in Marshall County involving officers from both the Plymouth Police Department (PPD) and Marshall County Sheriff’s Department (MCSD), ending in Koontz Lake, Starke County. The incident location was County Road 750 North and South Street in Koontz Lake.
On Dec. 31, 2020 MCSD and PPD officers engaged in a high-speed pursuit beginning in Plymouth. At approximately 11:49 p.m. EST, MCSD Deputy Andrew Wozniak, while on patrol, was traveling westbound on US 30 near Pioneer Drive. Deputy Wozniak observed a vehicle traveling southbound through the intersection of US30 and Pioneer Drive. This intersection can be heavily traveled, as there are many businesses there, as well as a busy truck stop. The vehicle was an older model, red pick-up truck.
Deputy Wozniak attempted to initiate a traffic stop, but the suspect continued to drive, and a pursuit commenced. The vehicle was traveling southbound on Pioneer Drive. When initiating the traffic stop, Deputy Wozniak utilized his police vehicle emergency lights that were in perfect working order.
The suspect vehicle then attempted to run Deputy Wozniak’s vehicle off the road while dangerously turning around to travel northbound on Pioneer Drive. The vehicle made a U-turn, and then came dangerously close to colliding with the rear of his police car. Deputy Wozniak then started to make a U-turn and observed the driver to be the lone occupant of the vehicle.
The vehicle then did approximately two circles in the intersection of Pioneer Drive and Lincoln Highway, with Deputy Wozniak continuing to follow the vehicle as closely as possible to ensure he would not strike his police car. After driving in circles, the vehicles went northbound on Pioneer Drive.
PPD Officer Paul Stamper was in the general area at the time of the pursuit, and he believed it was not appropriate to use “stop sticks” because there was not a safe area to deploy them. Officer Stamper then drove southbound on Pioneer Drive from US 30 and pulled over to the west side of the road near Miller Drive, just south of US 30. The vehicle then swerved at Officer Stamper, nearly striking his commission.
The vehicle then continued northbound on Pioneer Drive and then turned westbound on US 30. Deputy Wozniak and Officer Stamper pursued the vehicle westbound on US 30. The speed of the vehicle was very erratic.
As the pursuit moved westbound on US30, PPD Patrolman Stuart Krynock and MCSD Deputy Blake Bennett were able to catch up to the pursuit on US 30 near the Yogi Bear Campground. The vehicle continued to travel dangerously into Starke County, crossing into the median and then over into the eastbound lanes while still traveling west. The vehicle then crossed over the median and returned to the westbound lanes.
The vehicle returned to the westbound lanes and then traveled northbound on County Road 1100 East. As the vehicle traveled northbound on CR 1100 East, it was observed that the driver threw an unknown object out of the window.
The officers followed the vehicle northbound on CR 1100 East to the south end of Koontz Lake, where the vehicle turned eastbound. MCSD Deputy Richard Prater was staged to the east of this location with “stop sticks”. The officers continued to follow the vehicle eastbound along the south end of the lake.
The vehicle continued east onto a “dead end” and very narrow road near the intersection of South Street and Anderson Road, a residential area. The road appeared to be almost one-lane. This area is a densely populated area with houses close to the road as well as close together. Fireworks were going off in the neighborhood in celebration of New Year’s Eve.
The vehicle then drove through a front yard and then came to the end of the narrow, dead-end road. The vehicle then made a U-turn, turning around and facing the officers. Prominent tire marks were found in the grass, dirt, and roadway edge.
The vehicle then “gunned it” and came “straight at” Officer Stamper’s vehicle. At this point, Officer Stamper was still inside his vehicle, but was attempting to exit.
Deputy Bennett immediately exited his patrol vehicle after Officer Stamper’s police car was struck. The vehicle was then in reverse and hit the corner of Deputy Bennett’s vehicle. The vehicle also “slammed” into the passenger side of Officer Krynock’s vehicle. Deputy Bennett observed Deputy Prater between the vehicle and another police vehicle. Deputy Bennett thought it was possible Deputy Prater had been struck by the vehicle.
Deputy Bennett then drew his weapon as the vehicle backed up. Both Deputy Bennett and Deputy Prater quickly approached the vehicle, and both deputies observed the hand of the driver move toward the shifter to place the vehicle back in drive. Both deputies also heard the “revving” of the vehicle’s engine.
Deputy Prater drew his weapon and issued verbal commands for the driver to turn off his vehicle. Deputy Bennett also drew his weapon and approached the driver’s side of the vehicle. The driver of the vehicle did not cooperate and continued “revving” his engine. Both deputies fired their service weapons simultaneously at the vehicle’s driver.
After firing their service weapons, Deputy Bennett called for medics. Officer Krynock pulled the suspect out of the vehicle and Deputy Bennett began to render aid to the driver. ISP officers also arrived onto the scene and began assisting in providing medical aid to the driver. The driver suffered from a gunshot to the head, which was covered and wrapped, as well as a wound on the upper right shoulder, which was covered with a sterile dressing.
EMS personnel arrived on scene and were briefed as to the situation. EMS personnel began to render aid to the driver, and he was moved to an ambulance. The driver was later flown from the area by helicopter, and was taken to Memorial Hospital in South Bend.
The driver of the vehicle was identified as Jeffrey Marvin and he was later pronounced deceased at the hospital.
After an autopsy and toxicology were completed, it was determined that Mr. Marvin had alcohol, cocaine, benzodiazepines, and cannabinoids in his system at his time of death. The cause of Mr. Marvin’s death was from gunshot wounds.
During the investigation, ISP recovered footage from a doorbell camera from a house having a near, perfect view of the incident. The footage showed Mr. Marvin’s vehicle traveling in a densely populated area on a narrow road, and further shows that the emergency lights and sirens of the police vehicles were activated. It is clear from the footage that the houses are remarkably close to the street. The footage also shows that fireworks were going off in celebration of the holiday close to where the vehicle chase would finally come to an end.
Footage showed Mr. Marvin’s vehicle drive through the front yard of one of the residences and do a U-Turn. Police cars then come into view and stop to block the vehicle from fleeing any further and endangering the lives of others. As officers attempt to exit their cars, the footage shows the vehicle purposely drive into Officer Stamper’s police car.
As the vehicle backs up, the footage shows the driver backing into two other police cars. While the driver is in motion, the footage shows Deputies Bennett and Prater fire their weapons.
The footage from the doorbell camera supports and corroborates the statements of all the officers present.
Additionally, ISP recovered the dash cameras of Officers Stamper and Krynock and Deputies Bennett and Wozniak. They were all working during all portions of the pursuit. ISP also conducted interviews of all officers involved as part of the investigation. The statements made by the officers during the interviews were consistent with the footage that was recovered from the dash cameras, as well as the door-bell camera.
Upon review of both the MCSD’s pursuit policy and the PPD pursuit policy, all officers involved acted within the restraints of the policies of their respective departments.
The Marshall County Officers involved acted within the restraints of their own policy regarding use of deadly force given the actions of the driver of the fleeing vehicle.
Deputies Bennett and Prater both discharged their service weapons and shot Jeffrey Marvin. There is, however, substantial evidence to suggest that the deputies acted in self-defense. To refute a claim of self-defense, the State must prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the officers’ fear of imminent serious bodily injury or death by Mr. Marvin was either objectively unreasonable or insincere. Based upon the results of the investigation as outlined above, there is insufficient evidence to refute either the officer’s claim of subjective fear or the objective reasonableness of that fear.
Based upon the evidence gathered during the investigation into the actions of the deputies, both officers were legally justified under Indiana’s self-defense law and no criminal charges shall be filed against Deputy Bennett or Deputy Prater.