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Police chief who fatally shot man with knife acted in self-defense, Greene County Prosecutor says

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Posted at 7:29 AM, May 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-25 07:33:37-04

JASONVILLE — A police chief was justified when he fatally shot a man in late April who police say was armed with a knife and threatening his neighbors, the Greene County Prosecutor has found.

The findings, released Tuesday, name the man who died as Stephen Wheeler and the officer who shot him as Jasonville Police Chief Ryan Van Horn.

Greene County Prosecutor Jarrod Holtsclaw alleged Wheeler was threatening other residents and "aggressively approached" Van Horn, who commanded Wheeler to drop his weapon several times before shooting him.

The findings also state Wheeler's behavior was "consistent with someone who sought suicide by cop."

Holtsclaw wrote, "Wheeler charged at Chief Van Horn while armed with the knife and left Chief Van Horn no choice but to shoot him in order to avoid being stabbed."

On the day of the shooting, April 29, Jasonville police were called to Wheeler's home on Washington Street after a resident reported Wheeler was threatening people with a knife, according to the findings.

Wheeler was sitting on his porch when Van Horn tried to speak with him, at which point Wheeler, armed with a knife, "began to aggressively approach Chief Van Horn who remained near his vehicle in the street," the findings state.

Holtsclaw wrote that Van Horn ordered Wheeler to drop the knife a total of 15 times and offered to help him. In turn, Wheeler yelled and cursed at Van Horn and told him, "I don't care, shoot me," adding he would shoot himself if he had a gun, according to the findings.

Van Horn backed away as Wheeler continued to approach him, then charged, prompting Van Horn to fire one shot that struck Wheeler in the chest from about six feet away.

Wheeler stopped, turned around, walked back several steps, then faced Van Horn and raised the knife again before falling to the ground, according to the findings.

Van Horn then called for EMS and provided aid to Wheeler. Wheeler later died from his injuries.

Indiana State Police investigated the shooting, during which interviews were conducted with several residents and Van Horn, the findings state.

"Under Indiana Code 35-41-3-2, a person is justified in using deadly force and does not have a duty to retreat if the person reasonably believes that the force is necessary to prevent serious bodily injury or death to the person or a third person," Holtsclaw wrote.

"Further, under Indiana Code 35-41-3-3, a law enforcement officer is justified in using deadly force if the officer has probable cause to believe that deadly force is necessary to prevent the commission of a forcible felony or to effect an arrest of a person who the officer has probable cause to believe poses a threat of serious bodily injury to the officer or a third person and the officer has given a warning, if feasible to the person against whom the deadly force is to be used.

"... Under Indiana law, Chief Van Horn was justified in using deadly force in order to protect himself from serious bodily injury or death. His actions served to protect others in the immediate area as well."