Prosecutor says police ‘justified’ in fatal shooting of unarmed man on backhoe

Crime

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Huntington Police officers will not be charged in the shooting death of a man operating a backhoe, a special prosecutor has determined.

Special prosecutor D.J. Sigler found the Dec. 13 shooting of 36-year-old Matthew T. Melzoni of Wabash “tragic” but justified.

It was just after just after 3:30 that morning when Huntington Police were called to the area of Schultz Drive and Etna Avenue because someone was destroying property with a backhoe. When police arrived, the suspect – identified later as Melzoni – pulled away in the backhoe, and led officers on a 15-20 minute pursuit around the neighborhood and onto the Horace Mann Elementary and Riverside Middle School campus, where he “continued causing damage to private and public property,” according to state police

From there, police found Melzoni’s “conduct with the backhoe rendered him an imminent danger to both police officers and civilians,” and officers fired on him. Melzoni was killed.

He was not armed and did not fire at police during the ordeal, state police found.

Sigler was named special prosecutor to investigate the case. In his findings, Sigler wrote that officers who responded that morning were confronted with “an immediate and deadly scenario: a known violent felon with a history of erratic behavior and serious substance abuse history operating a massive vehicle designed for demolition and excavation.”

Sigler found that officers acted within their authority and complied with department procedures for use of deadly force. He added that independent eyewitnesses confirmed the police tried non-lethal methods to de-escalate the situation.

“The death of the suspect, though regrettable, was the direct result of the suspect’s chosen, criminal course of conduct,” Sigler wrote.

The Huntington Police officers have not been named.

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