A northern Wisconsin tribe is asking federal officials to investigate why an Ashland County deputy shot and killed a teen on the tribe's reservation.
Ashland County Sheriff's Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich shot and killed 14-year-old Jason Pero last Thursday on the Bad River Band’s reservation. Bad River Communications Specialist Nicole Smith said the tribe believes the deputy used excessive force when responding to a call of a male walking with a knife.
"The tribe would like to take a stand for justice in the tragedy that happened. This is a whole entire community that was affected. It was, of course, the family, but this has affected everybody," she said. "For what happened to this boy, we don’t want to see that ever happening again here."
The tribe is requesting the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division to open a criminal civil rights and police misconduct investigation into the deputy’s use of force.
"In their statement, the DOJ attempts to describe Jason as being a troubled young man that acted in a violent manner towards the deputy," said the tribe in a press release. "The Bad River Tribal Council does not agree with this recent press release, nor the excessive use of force on a minor child."
The Wisconsin Department of Justice said in a release Saturday that Pero lunged at Mrdjenovich twice with a butcher knife while the deputy was attempting to back away. The agency said initial findings show the Bad River teen was "despondent" prior to the incident and that evidence supported that conclusion.
The deputy is on paid administrative leave. He has been with the Ashland County Sheriff’s Office for about a year.
"This police brutality has to end, it’s an epidemic in our country and against all Native Americans," said Holly Gauthier, mother of Jason Pero, in the tribe's release. "Now our family is counted among them. Many of these killings are unlawful and are not properly prosecuted. Our laws about prosecuting unlawful police conduct need to change, and this has to end now."
The state DOJ is still investigating the incident and plans to release its findings to the Ashland County District Attorney within the next month.
The agency did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the tribe's request for a federal investigation.
Editor's Note: This story was updated at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017, with original reporting by WPR.