Questions of conduct after Calhoun Co. standoff

Homeowner suing sheriff's office over April 2015 incident

Ernest Kirk
Ernest Kirk demonstrates how he saw a deputy pointing a handgun toward his home on the night of April 9, 2015.


PENNFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) – The fallout over a short armed standoff between a homeowner and a sheriff’s sergeant is leading to questions about what Calhoun County deputies may have done to protect their own.

The Calhoun County prosecutor agrees that the homeowner and sergeant could have been justified in killing the other during the April 2015 incident. But ultimately, it was the homeowner who was arrested, leading to complaints from neighbors.

Police reports obtained by Target 8 show two neighbors who witnessed the standoff complained that deputies “coerced” and “threatened” them and that deputies on the scene filled out incomplete reports that left out key details supporting the homeowner.

“I suspected an intruder, and in fact, the whole time, the thought on my mind was, ‘There’s an armed intruder,’ and ‘What do I do in order to protect my family?'” homeowner Ernest Kirk told Target 8.

Ernest Kirk speaks with Target 8. (October 2016)
Ernest Kirk speaks with Target 8. (October 2016)

Kirk and his wife filed a federal lawsuit late last month against Calhoun County Sheriff Matt Saxton, Sgt. Brandy Edmonds and other deputies, claiming they violated his constitutional rights.

It’s the second time Kirk has sued police in federal court. In 2009, he claimed police in Grosse Pointe Park, near Detroit, violated his constitutional rights during an incident involving an officer. Court records show that case was settled out of court in 2012.

ARMED INTRUDER

Kirk, 59, and his wife planned to settle down in a home inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright in Pennfield Township, near Battle Creek. Kirk is a retired electrical engineer with no criminal record; his wife is a retired doctor.

“This was to be kind of home base for our retirement,” Kirk said.

Ernest Kirk's home in Pennfield Township. (October 2016)
Ernest Kirk’s home in Pennfield Township. (October 2016)

The home had become an eyesore, but Kirk saw what it once was and what it could be, so he bought it out of foreclosure for $19,900. Neighbors were thrilled.

He spent the day of April 9, 2015 working on it.

Then, at 11:30 that night: “I was here watching the news,” he showed Target 8 as he stood in the living room. “And through this glass partition wall, I saw lights looking into the kitchen.”

He said he spotted at least one flashlight outside.

“I went back into the kitchen and looked out and saw then that there was someone armed with a gun, and so I picked up a phone and a gun here, and I went to the side door,” Kirk said.

He also called 911.

“It’s 42 Garden North. Working in my home, all of a sudden I see flashlights,” he told the dispatcher.

CONFUSING CONFRONTATION

Kirk told Target 8 he never went outside, never opened the door and kept his loaded 9 mm handgun at his side, pointed down.

“I didn’t know that there was someone up here on a hill with an assault rifle and another person standing right here pointing in through the glass door,” he said, demonstrating how the person was holding a handgun.

Ernest Kirk
Ernest Kirk demonstrates how he saw a deputy pointing a handgun toward his home on the night of April 9, 2015.

Kirk said he didn’t learn until later that it was a police officer — Calhoun County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Brandy Edmonds — standing outside in the dark.

A few blocks away, deputies had just arrested a man for stealing tools from an open garage, reports show. They were checking Kirk’s home because his garage door also was open.

“All she is there is trying to find out if whether or not his home had been burglarized,” Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert told Target 8. “That’s all she was there for.”

In her police report, Edmonds wrote she knocked on Kirk’s door and identified herself. She wrote that she pulled her gun only after seeing his and continued to identify herself, even shining her flashlight on her uniform.

“The male subject had the gun in his right hand, at his right hip, pointed directly at me during the confrontation,” she wrote in her report.

“I, for some reason at that point, felt it best to confront them,” Kirk said. “So I said, ‘Who are you? What are you doing?’ And they never said they were police. They just said, ‘Come out of the house, get on the ground. And then, ‘Drop the gun, come out.'”

Kirk said he never pointed the weapon at the sergeant, but he did refuse to put down his gun, even as each yelled at the other to drop it.

He said the woman was “barking” commands.

“It was very difficult to understand and it was confusing,” he said. “Here was a strange voice with a gun pointed at you, demanding that you come out of the house.”

During his 911 call, he told the dispatcher: “Somebody screams at me, they didn’t identify themselves as police.”

The dispatcher answered: “It’s our officers out there.”

“She raised her gun at me,” he told the dispatcher. “I’m going to file a complaint.”

SEARCH AND ARREST

The dispatcher told Kirk that the sergeant was looking for the burglary suspect.

“She thinks you may be the victim of a B&E (burglary) and she had a suspect out there. She’s screaming for other officers to help her,” the dispatcher told him. “She’s in a dangerous situation at this time. I apologize for the way it was handled.”

The burglar, who was working alone, was already handcuffed in a patrol car, arrested before deputies got to Kirk’s house.

“Open up your door and go out with your hands up,” the dispatcher told Kirk. “She’s trying to help you.”

Kirk responded: “I’m safe in my home. I don’t trust somebody who aims a gun at my chest.”

Minutes later, another deputy talked Kirk into walking out without his gun. Kirk said his wife followed him outside.

“That’s when a guy grabbed my wife pretty roughly, shoved a gun in her abdomen and said, if you don’t give us consent to search your house, you’re going to be in more trouble than he is,” Kirk told Target 8.

He said a deputy followed her back inside, searched his home without permission and took his gun.

Deputies found that nothing had been stolen from Kirk’s garage, then arrested him for felonious assault and obstructing police. He spent the night in jail.

“No one could resist the urge of being angry at being thrown in jail, being strip searched, being treated like a criminal, having their reputation ruined, having their family terrorized for no reason,” Kirk said.

COERCION AND COVER-UP?

Deputies interviewed two women who lived next door. The original police report showed the women heard the confrontation, but it left out key details.

Two months later, the women filed a citizen’s complaint with the sheriff’s department, claiming they were threatened and coerced and that the report was incomplete. In written statements, the neighbors said they not only heard the situation but also watched it through their bedroom window. They said they saw Kirk inside his door with his gun pointed at the ground and a person with a gun pointed at Kirk.

“At no point did the person with the gun and the flashlight identify themselves,” one of the neighbors wrote.

The other neighbor wrote she went outside and that an unknown person dressed in black pointed a gun at her and told her to get back inside.

“This would have all ended if they had just said it was a mistake, but their poor judgment was compounded by the cover-up,” Kirk said.

The county prosecutor said he was not aware of the citizen’s complaint.

“If they want to say they were threatened or coerced, that’s fine,” Gilbert said. “I’d like to know what they said. I would like to know what was said to them.”

“I know that they disagreed with what he (a deputy) wrote in his statement because in his statement he just talked about what they heard not what they saw,” he continued.

‘A VERY, VERY LUCKY SITUATION’

Gilbert dismissed the charges against Kirk after the sergeant didn’t show up for a court hearing. He said he later refused to refile the charges after interviewing Kirk.

“I don’t believe the officers were happy,” he said.

But Gilbert said he doesn’t believe the sergeant did anything wrong.

“She’s got the right to say, ‘Put the gun down, man, you’re putting me in danger, I’m afraid,'” he explained. “But then again, what helped him (Kirk) was he was afraid, too.

Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert.
Calhoun County Prosecutor David Gilbert. (October 2016)

“He went out there with a gun for a reason because he felt, probably, after talking to him, he was in danger. He didn’t know who was out there. So I’ll give him that. He didn’t know who was out there. But once he gets out there, he sees that’s a police officer, you know what? He needs to put that gun down,” Gilbert said.

“It was a very, very lucky situation for both people. He didn’t shoot her, thinking that she was trying to burglarize his home, and she didn’t shoot him thinking that he was about to kill her,” he added.

SHERIFF DEFENDS OFFICERS

Sheriff Matt Saxton defended the actions of his sergeant and the deputies who responded.

He said his department investigated the neighbors’ allegations of threats and coercion and said that “stories changed.”

He said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.

Saxton said he believes there was enough evidence to charge Kirk with felonious assault and obstruction.

The neighbors who witnessed the incident have not returned repeated messages from Target 8 seeking comment.

SAFETY QUESTIONED

Kirk said he spent $40,000 on an attorney and private investigator.

“This ‘innocent until proven guilty’ (principle) is really a crock,” he said.

He said his wife has refused to return to the home.

“She doesn’t feel safe here anymore because of the architecture of the house and because of the actions of the people we entrust with public safety,” Kirk said. “So I come here alone to what was our dream for a peaceful retirement near family, and I’m by myself.”

Kirk said he wants the sergeant and deputies fired. He said he also wants the county to establish a civilian review board to investigate complaints against county employees.