By LeAnn R. Ralph
MENOMONIE — The Dunn County district attorney has issued a legal opinion that the Boyceville police officer who shot and killed a woman in November was acting in self-defense.
Dunn County DA Andrea Nodolf issued the written opinion Friday, January 9, to Brandon Scott, interim Boyceville police chief.
Shonda Mikelson was shot and killed shortly after 9 p.m. November 14 when a Boyceville police officer responded to a domestic disturbance at 469 Main Street in Boyceville.
Mikelson was armed with a loaded rifle and what appeared to be a semi-automatic pistol.
The pistol turned out to be a BB gun replica.
“After consideration of all the evidence, I have concluded that there is no basis to believe that Officer Samuel Joseph Miller committed any crime,” Nodolf wrote.
“Further, I have concluded that Officer Miller acted in accordance with the law and his duty as a sworn law enforcement officer. The fatal shooting of Mikelson, while tragic, was justified under the circumstances as Officer Miller was acting in self-defense,” Nodolf wrote in her five-page opinion.
According to the factual analysis in Nodolf’s written legal opinion, Timothy Fern, Mikelson’s boyfriend, said in a written statement that he and Mikelson had gotten into an argument in the garage earlier in the evening on November 14 about a loan and a title to a truck.
Fern hid the keys to the truck and said that Mikelson had pushed him.
Fern told Mikelson that if she touched him again, he was going to call 911.
After Fern had taken a shower, he discovered his cell phone, which had been in his pants pocket, was now missing.
When Fern asked Mikelson about the phone, she said she did not have it, and Fern said he was going to the neighbor’s house to call 911.
Mikelson picked up a large kitchen knife off the counter, held it up as if she was going to stab him, and told Fern she was not going to jail again and that she was going to stab him.
As Fern was leaving the house, Mikelson grabbed the collar of his shirt, and it ripped down both sides.
Fern went to the neighbors’ house, Timothy and Mary Matthaei, who called 911.
At around 9:09 p.m., Officer Miller was dispatched to Mikelson’s and Fern’s house with a report of a physical domestic incident involving a knife.
Officer Miller, who had previous law enforcement contacts with Mikelson, approached the house at the east side door. The interior door was open but the glass screen door was closed. Officer Miller opened the screen door, identified himself and said he needed to talk to Mikelson.
Officer Miller, who was wearing his full police uniform, was working that night on the 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift.
Since Mikelson was reported to be armed with a knife, Officer Miller had drawn his weapon.
Although Mikelson did not respond to Officer Miller verbally, she eventually appeared at the the top of the stairway holding a rifle in her right hand.
Officer Miller told Mikelson to “Drop the gun, drop the gun,” to which Mikelson responded, “No, I won’t.”
Mikelson then stepped out farther into the hallway and raised her left hand, pointing a pistol at the officer.
When Mikelson drew the pistol, Officer Miller fired one shot, backed up and took cover by the rear bumper of a truck.
Officer Miller said he did not see the pistol in Mikelson’s left hand until she raised the weapon, and he was not sure if Mikelson had picked up the weapon in the hallway or if she was hiding it behind her body.
Nodolf’s factual analysis goes on to say that additional officers arrived on the scene and formed an entry team to enter the residence and secure it.
The team entered through the front door to the south and found Mikelson inside the residence, deceased.
They also found Fern and Mikelson’s unharmed infant in a crib.
When Barron County investigators arrived, they observed Mikelson’s body on the landing inside the east side door.
The position of Mikelson’s body was consistent with falling from the top of the stairs, or close to the top of the stairs, after being shot.
Mikelson had sustained a single gun-shot wound near the center of the chest, with no exit wound.
Investigators also found a black BB gun designed to look like a semi-automatic pistol next to Mikelson’s head and a rifle just below Mikelson’s body at the bottom of the stairs in the basement.
The rifle was loaded with one round of ammunition in the chamber, with the magazine laying next to it.
Investigators found the shell casing from Officer Miller’s gun a few feet outside of the east doorway in the snow.
Glass of wine
Nodolf’s factual analysis indicates that investigators found a partial glass of wine on the ledge above the stairs leading to the basement.
Fern told investigators that Mikelson had been drinking heavily lately, especially wine, and investigators found a box of red wine inside the refrigerator.
Two prescriptions for Mikelson also were located inside the house: one for an antidepressant and one for an anti-anxiety medication.
One of the warnings for the anti-depressant is that “some young people have thoughts of suicide when first taking an anti-depressant.”
Another warning indicates that drinking alcohol while taking the anti-depressant can increase the side effects and may impair thinking or reactions.
Side effects for the anti-anxiety medication also include impaired thinking and reactions.
Toxicology results later revealed that Mikelson had a blood alcohol level of .24.
Investigators learned that between August 12 and October 20 of 2014, Mikelson had seven contacts with law enforcement officers.
Many of the contacts were for welfare checks because Mikelson was alleged to be a heavy drinker and there were concerns about her ability to care for her four children, including the infant she had with Fern.
Officer Miller had contacts with Mikelson for welfare checks on October 10, 16 and 17.
According to a custody agreement for one of the children, Mikelson was not to possess or consume alcohol when the child was with her.
During the previous welfare checks, Officer Miller said Mikelson was friendly to him, met him at the door and invited him inside the house.
Nodolf’s factual analysis notes that a little more than two weeks before her death, Mikelson had a reported suicide attempt on October 28, and she was committed to Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire for an emergency detention.
It was alleged that Mikelson either attempted suicide or contemplated suicide by hanging herself with an electrical cord tied to the rafters of the garage.
Nodolf’s factual analysis states that Mikelson also had law enforcement contact with the Menomonie Police Department and was being investigated for embezzlement and forgery.
Mikelson was alleged to have stolen tens of thousands of dollars from her former employer, Dale Schmitz, the owner of DKS Construction.
Schmitz claimed that Mikelson stole $120,000 by over-paying herself, by using business credit cards for personal use or by using business checks for personal items.
According to Dunn County District Attorney Nodolf’s legal opinion, “It is reasonable to conclude that there was an actual and imminent threat to Officer Miller’s life based on the statements and actions of Mikelson on that tragic night. Officer Miller justifiably reacted, as a last resort, to Mikelson’s actions in self-defense. Officer Miller’s reaction was consistent with his training, (Boyceville police) department policy, and his legal privilege to use deadly force to protect himself.”
Nodolf goes on to say, “It is not reasonable to expect an officer, in this situation, to lower his weapon or retreat as that would expose the officer to a substantial and unreasonable immediate risk of being shot. Attempts at verbal persuasion and physical presence, two key components of controlling a situation, had failed despite Officer Miller’s previous history and contacts with Mikelson.”
Nodolf also wrote, “While the pistol (Mikelson had in her hand) was later determined to be a BB gun, it was designed to look like a real semi-automatic pistol and it would not be practically possible to identify it as a BB gun in a situation requiring quick action and decision making.”
Nodolf concludes her opinion by saying, “Ms. Mikelson’s death is tragic. However, based on the total facts and circumstances, it is my conclusion that Officer Sam Miller’s use of deadly force was justified and did not constitute any criminal wrongdoing.”