Last July 20, two men engaged in a brief altercation in Kasota, Minnesota. One of them was unarmed and wearing nothing but swim trunks. The other, dressed in regular clothes, was carrying a gun, which he used to pump several rounds into the first man’s chest at point-blank range.
This killing of an unarmed man was witnessed by more than a dozen people, all of whom — except, apparently, one — described it as undisguised murder. Yet a grand jury has refused to indict the killer, who — as should be obvious to any reasonably observant person — was a police officer.
The victim, 24-year-old stay-at-home father Tyler Heilman, had just ended a brief swim in a nearby lake and was clad only in swim trunks when he was stopped by Deputy Todd Waldron of the LeSeur County Sheriff’s Office for an alleged traffic violation.
The encounter in the parking lot of an apartment complex quickly became testy and degenerated into a physical altercation, one that some witnesses say Waldron — who was “working undercover” — was losing.
Kris Hoehn, a childhood friend of Heilman who witnessed the incident, recalls that his friend confronted the unidentified man who had been tailgating him in a Dodge Durango. To Hoehn it seemed apparent that his friend was unsure of the identity of the individual in street clothes who presumptuously demanded identification, and he understandably fought back when that unidentified stalker grabbed him by the shoulders.
Waldron was reportedly investigating an “unrelated matter” when he turned his lethal attention to Heilman. The young father might have suspected that he was being followed by a common criminal. If that had been the case, he most likely would still be alive.
According to witnesses, after his “good enough for government `work’” unarmed combat skills proved inadequate to subdue Heilman, Waldron pulled his gun and shot Heilman at least three, and perhaps four, times in the chest. He didn’t identify himself as a police officer or issue a warning of any kind.
At the time, Heilman was backing away with his hands raised as if in surrender.
One of the rounds fired by Waldron damaged a local apartment, most likely putting the life of yet another innocent person at risk.
Among the eyewitnesses to the killing were Jolene Manderfield and her children, who reside in the apartment building and were in the parking lot when Waldron shot Heilman. Jolene’s husband Scott heard the gunshots and raced to the scene to administer CPR in a futile attempt to save the life of the young father.
“When I ran outside, [Waldron] had his gun out,” recalled Scott Manderfield. “I asked who he was and he said he was a cop. He told me to help him flip Tyler over, then he said, `What have I done?’ He was running around frantic.”
Scott and Jolene Manderfield, along with their children Brooke and Eric, testified before a grand jury considering an indictment against Waldron. Eric, 13, was a passenger in Heilman’s vehicle and witnessed the execution-style murder at close range.
After hearing testimony from more than twenty witnesses, the grand jury decided — and wasn’t the suspense just unbearable? — that no charges would be filed against the killer. This permitted Andrew Johnson, assistant attorney for Anoka County, to claim — apparently in all seriousness — that the deputy acted in self-defense when he gunned down an unarmed, barely clothed man who was backing away with his hands raised.
Johnson claims that the grand jury was persuaded by a conveniently anonymous witness who “happened to be driving by and … saw it,” and whose account “is very similar to what the officer said and it contradicts what the witnesses at the scene said.” Johnson refused to provide details of both Waldron’s account and that of the mystery witness, promising that his office “will have more on that very soon,” albeit not “next week.”
Chances are pretty good that this conveniently anonymous and corroborative witness was a fellow member of Waldron’s local fraternity of officially sanctioned bully-boys: Waldron has acknowledged that he called for “backup” as he stalked Heilman to the parking lot. This would explain how such a helpful witness just happened to be “driving by” at the time of the killing, and why grand jurors would defer to his account rather than those of witnesses much closer to the action.
“He went from playing down at the river, living the life, to being shot down in what is practically his own backyard,” Kirs Hoehn said of his murdered friend. “He was a 24-year-old guy with a young son,” a 3-year-old named Haydin.
Immediately after the grand jury’s decision, Waldron’s paid vacation (aka “administrative leave”) was brought to an end and he was returned to the force with his license to murder fully restored.
Sheriff Dave Glisinski told reporters that “it’s great to have him back. He’s a professional investigator and a key to the force.” That comment reveals much about the nature of Sheriff Glisinski’s “force” and its standards of “professionalism.”
Whatever else can be said about Waldron, he is a living argument on behalf of the proposition that government police are consistently a greater menace to life, liberty, and property than private criminals could ever be.
11:13 pm on January 24, 2010
Email William Norman Grigg