An apparently paranoid and armed man with meth in his system held another man hostage for more than two hours this winter.
When that man, 33-year-old John Hall, waved a rifle past police and his hostage, Marathon County Sheriff's Deputy Brandon Stroik fired a single shot killing Hall.
Two and a half months later, on Friday, Marathon County District Attorney Theresa Wetzsteon announced Stroik was justified in the shooting. That was after an extensive Department of Justice investigation. Wisconsin law requires an outside agency to investigate any officer-involved shooting.
"After careful consideration of all the available evidence, I have concluded that Deputy Brandon Stroik was justified in his use of lethal force during this incident," Wetzsteon wrote in her report.
Just after 1 a.m. on March 2, 2017, Marathon County Sheriff's Deputy Megan Sowinski pulled up to a truck at the intersection of Swan and Morning Glory in Rib Mountain. Sowinski initially thought the truck was in the ditch or had been in a crash, but quickly she saw something was wrong.
"I'm at Swan and Morning Glory," Sowinski radioed in on audio released in the DOJ's report Friday morning. "He's got a gun pointed at someone else."
Sowinski spotted a man soon to be identified as Hall holding another man at gunpoint. Sowinski could be heard many times asking Hall, "What's going on?" asking Hall to simply talk to her.
Within a few minutes additional sheriff's deputies, including Deputy Stroik, rushed to the scene to help out. Meanwhile, Sowinski repeatedly asked Hall to put down his handgun and rifle and to let his hostage go.
"John, is there anything I can do to get you to drop the gun and come talk to me?" Sowinski can be heard saying on her dash cam footage.
A more than two-hour-long standoff was underway. Department of Justice reports show Hall repeatedly questioned if officers on scene were real police. Hall seemed convinced the man he was holding hostage planned to kill him and his wife.
A sheriff's office communications specialist talked to Hall on a cell phone delivered by a bomb squad robot during the standoff. She later told investigators Hall would alternate talking to her and his hostage.
"He wanted to talk, I let him vent," the specialist recalled. That audio came from a recording during a post-standoff interview about 12 hours later.
"[I could hear (the hostage) in the background saying,] 'Just [expletive] let me go, I don't want to die with you,'" the specialist recalled. "And John said, 'That's too bad.'"
About 45 yards away, Deputy Stroik took a sniper's position, watching Hall through a scope. Stroik is a U.S. Army veteran and a trained marksman. The DA's report shows Stroik also served in the National Guard from September 2008 through September 2014. Stroik began with the MCSO as a full-time patrol deputy and canine handler in January 2014. He is a member of the SWAT team.
Officers could be heard on released scanner audio during the standoff.
"He's waving a pistol around," one officer said.
"He pointed it right at me, FYI," said another.
"I do not have a shot due to the hostage," an officer, possibly Stroik, can be heard replying.
Hall's wife would later tell police her husband was in a car crash in November 2016 and injured his head. On the night of the standoff, Hall's wife says her husband was tearing the house apart and cutting wires because Hall thought people were listening to him and spying on him.
About 2 1/2 hours into the standoff, Hall dropped his handgun. Hall ignored officers' commands to leave the gun and picked it back up. A few minutes later, Hall started swinging his rifle around across police positions, then back at his hostage, who was now inside the truck.
Moments later, at 3:29 a.m., Deputy Stroik fired one shot from his sniper position, hitting Hall in the head.
Officers moved in and rescued the hostage. Stroik told investigators he believed Hall was about to shoot an officer or the hostage right before the deputy took the shot.
"The position that he took was a disadvantage to him, but he kept everyone else safe," Marathon County Sheriff Scott Parks said of Stroik on Friday morning.
Toxicology reports show Hall tested positive for methamphetamine. Those tests showed Hall had about two-times the concentration of meth as reported in users who demonstrate violent or irrational behavior. A baggie of meth was found in Hall's pocket.
"Unfortunately the controlled substance caused Mr. Hall to react in ways that he normally would not," Parks said.
In her report, the Marathon County DA wrote, "Deputy Stroik had no reasonable opportunity to use any lesser means of force... Deputy Sowinski and the Crisis Negotiation Team members along with all the officers who responded to this incident acted with great restraint, demonstrating respect for the life of the civilian hostage and Hall."
Hall's family released a written statement Friday afternoon in response to the DA's findings.
"While watching the dash cam video, our family was extremely impressed with the attitude Officer Solinski [sic] portrayed throughout the entire situation. She appeared to keep John as civil as possible through his agitated state."
The family's statement goes on to question Hall's meth use, noting "we believe John did not willingly take meth.
"John has been greatly missed and is a huge loss for our family. A part of our hearts is forever gone."
You can read the entire Hall family statement below.
"While watching the dash cam video, our family was extremely impressed with the attitude Officer Solinski portrayed throughout the entire situation. She appeared to keep John as civil as possible through his agitated state.
We were very shocked to find out he had methamphetamine in his system. Until his car accident, he was the same man we have always known. While we are well aware that the signs and symptoms he showed that night correlate with a methamphetamine user, they also correlate with a traumatic brain injury.
There seems to be confusion that a concussion is not a traumatic brain injury (TBI) . The definition of a TBI is "A blow or jolt to the head that can change the way a brain normally works." A concussion is indeed considered a TBI.
We believe John did not willingly take meth. We found it odd he had an empty baggy in his right pocket, even though he always kept his possessions in his left pocket.
In the past months leading up to this incident, John requested law enforcement to search his vehicle for drugs and bombs. Due to those incidents, we requested to have the baggy with the residue of methamphetamine finger-printed, but our request was denied by the supervisor of the Department of Justice, because it happened before the incident occurred, therefore, it was irrelevant to the investigation.
John has been greatly missed and is a huge loss for our family. A part of our hearts is forever gone.
We believe laws and regulations in Wisconsin are not what they should be, and will be fighting to bring stricter regulations, as well as requirements that more resources and training are available to employees who may be actively involved with an individual who has a mental illness.
We tried to get John the help he needed, and were repeatedly turned down. Our goal is to make it near impossible for others to be turned away in there time of need.
The family of John Hall"
The Marathon County District Attorney found the officer who killed an armed man in Rib Mountain this winter justified.
DA Theresa Wetzsteon released her findings Friday morning.
Marathon County Deputy Brandon Stroik shot and killed John J. Hall with a single rifle shot after a standoff that lasted more than two hours. It happened early in the morning on March 2nd near the intersection of Morning Glory Lane and Swan Avenue in Rib Mountain.
Hall was holding a man hostage outside a pickup truck. Hall had a handgun and rifle, acting "animated" and paranoid, according to the DA's report.
An autopsy found methamphetamine in Hall's system. He was 33 years old.
Stroik is a U.S. Army veteran, trained sniper, and has been with the Marathon County Sheriff's Office since 2014.
This story will be updated.