Witness to police-involved shooting: Deputy had ‘no choice’

Beeline Road shooting
Crime tape surrounds the scene of an officer-involved shooting in the 300 block of Beeline Road in Holland Township. (Nov. 23, 2016)

HOLLAND TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — A witness to the police-involved shooting of a knife-wielding man said the Ottawa County deputy had “no choice” but to open fire.

The sheriff’s department identified the man as David Leroy Thelen, 43, who lived at Beeline Apartments in Holland Township.

The neighbor who witnessed the shooting said it appeared the man wanted to die all along, and he doesn’t blame the deputy who fired the shots.

“It seemed to me like it was suicide by police,” said the witness, who didn’t want to be identified. “He intended to commit suicide and that’s the way he went about it.”

“I don’t think there was anything the officer could have done. He was afraid for his life, he was afraid for his partner’s life, and so he did what he had to do.”

The sheriff’s department said Thelen had called 911 for medical help Wednesday night.

The neighbor said he heard sirens, stepped onto his balcony to see an ambulance and a sheriff’s car, then saw a deputy and reserve deputy banging on the man’s door.

He said the man answered the door with a butcher knife at his side.

“So, they yelled at him to drop the knife, show us your hands, stop, drop the knife,” the witness said. “They yelled that for some time.”

The man, he said, didn’t say a thing.

“Kind of like a zombie, or a Frankenstein monster, kind of plodding forward at them, but not stopping and not lowering his knife.”

All three were in a small grassy area, maybe 10 feet apart, in front of the man’s apartment, with the man still moving toward the deputies with the knife. He said the man did not lunge at the deputies.

Then, the witness said, “Bam, bam, bam.”

He said the deputy fired three shots and that all appeared to hit the man. Rescuers quickly tried CPR, he said.

The neighbor said he knew Thelen, but not well, and that he often sat on his front porch, smoking cigarettes.

The man’s demeanor seemed to change in recent weeks, he said, after his wife moved out.

“He wasn’t taking that well. He was a lot more sullen after that.”

After the shooting, he watched the deputy walk over to his patrol car.

“He steadied himself on the side of his car, but then he got off his feet and sat down inside his cruiser,” he said. “It seemed like he was shocked.”

The deputy is on paid administrative leave during the investigation. After the investigation is complete it will be sent to the Ottawa County Prosecutor’s Office for review.

“I’m afraid they’re going to ask him why he didn’t use his Taser, or why he didn’t use Mace or try some other non-lethal form of diffusing the situation,” the witness said. “He didn’t have any time. It happened so quick, that he had to protect himself and he had to protect his partner. He didn’t have any choice. He did the right thing.”

An autopsy was performed in Grand Rapids on Thursday. Police say a final autopsy report and toxicology results will take weeks to complete.

Investigators are still looking for witnesses or people with pertinent information about the victim. Anyone with information is asked to call the Michigan State Police Rockford Post at 616.866.4411.