Man fatally shot by Kent County deputy was mentally ill

Jonathan Sper
An undated courtesy photo of Jonathan Sper. (National Alliance on Mental Illness)


ALGOMA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — The man who was shot and killed by a Kent County sheriff’s deputy Tuesday had a history of bizarre behavior dating back to 2013, according to court documents obtained by 24 Hour News 8.

Jonathan David Sper died after a struggle with deputies who were responding to a dispute between him and his brother in the 4000 block of Summit Court NE in Algoma Township.

Naomi Brown met Sper last summer and became fast friends.

“It was always an adventure with him,” said Brown. “(He was) full of energy, an amazing communicator, and (an) amazing friend when he was in a good space.”

But their was friendship punctuated by Sper’s mental health struggles.

Sper’s father had petitioned the court to have his son committed in December 2013 after Sper claimed the rooms in his home were bugged, court records show. Sper ended up in a Muskegon mental health facility.

In May 2016, police were called to his parents’ Ada home after Sper began acting strange. A deputy had to break out a car window after Sper had locked himself in the vehicle and refused to come out, according to court documents.

Records indicate Sper was sent to Pine Rest on May 24 after he was dignosed with bipolar schizoaffective disorder. He was released in June.

Brown says when Sper was on medication or other treatments, he was a person who had the ability to build worlds. When he was off his medication, it was a different story.

At 6 feet 3 inches and 180 pounds, Sper’s size combined with his mental health issues gave him a powerful and sometimes unpredictable presence, according to Brown.

But she’s had a hard time accepting what happened early Tuesday evening.

“It seems really hard that he would intentionally create conflict with authority, especially something that would lead to the end of his life,” said Brown.

She said Sper had been though rough times lately. He was kicked out of his apartment and planned to go to California to be with friends, but got sick.

Authorities say Sper ended up at his brother’s Algoma Township home around 5 p.m. Tuesday in a manic state. The Kent County Sheriff’s Department said his brother spent two hours of trying to confine Sper and deescalate the situation, with a goal of “peacefully removing him from the property.” After a brief physical fight between the two, Sper’s brother called 911 for help.

The Kent County Sheriff’s Department said when police arrived, the brothers were already separated and Jonathan was in the garage. His brother warned deputies about Sper’s manic state. When deputies approached Sper, he failed to follow their orders and got into a struggle with them, which led to the deadly shooting.

Brown says Sper wasn’t known to carry a weapon. Investigators have not said if he had one in the altercation with deputies.

Brown wishes Sper had been on medication that would have prevented him from getting in the fight, or that some sort of de-escalation procedure could have prevented the shooting.

“But the truth is, I wasn’t there. I don’t know how violent or aggressive he would have become,” said Brown.

But what Brown wishes most is that there was a better understanding of mental illness that could have prevented the tragedy.

“I hope that we’re all able to address better, how we talk about mental illness and how we care for those that we know struggle with it,” said Brown.

The Kent County Sheriff Department and Sper family share a similar sentiment in a joint statement, released Thursday:

“Although there are already tremendous efforts in this community to provide resources for the mentally ill, the Office of the Sheriff and the Sper family have a desire to advocate for continued improvement in how mentally ill people are handled by the criminal justice system and by community mental health providers so that this tragedy is not repeated,” it reads in part.

The Sper family is asking that any donations be made to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, which supports hundreds of thousands of families while raising awareness about mental illness.

“We know that Jonathan is in a better place – a place where he no longer has to wrestle with mental illness,” the family said in the joint statement.

Following standard protocol in an officer-involved shooting, the deputy who fired the shots that killed Sper, as well as a second deputy who responded to the call are on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.

—-

Online:

Sper family fundraiser for National Alliance on Mental Illness