As a community grieves and a family has few words, Wisconsin investigators say the 911 call that preceded the police shooting of a knife-wielding Native American teen was made by the teen himself.
Ashland County Sheriff’s Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich fatally shot 14-year-old Jason Ike Pero last week after receiving a report that a male was walking down the street with a knife in Odanah, Wisconsin, about a 4-hour drive northeast of Minneapolis.
Odanah hosts the administrative offices for the Bad River Band Of Lake Superior Tribe of Chippewa Indians, of which Jason was a member.
“Pero approached Deputy Mrdjenovich with a large butcher knife and he refused numerous commands to drop the weapon,” said a report from the Wisconsin Department of Justice. “On two occasions, Pero lunged at the deputy while the deputy was attempting to retreat. Deputy Mrdjenovich fired his service weapon at Pero, striking him twice.”
The middle-schooler was pronounced dead at Memorial Medical Center in Ashland.
“He was a good kid, a happy kid,” the boy’s grandfather, Alan Pero, said. “He loved being around family and friends. He was a jokester. His teachers loved him. Quite a bit of teachers came to the funeral and wake.”
Jason’s mother is blind, and he was always happy to help her and serve as her guide, Alan Pero said.
Mrdjenovich, who has been with the sheriff’s office for about a year, is on paid administrative leave. Officials say they found a knife at the scene of the shooting.
‘He was gone’
The state DOJ’s investigation indicates “Pero was the same person that called 911 reporting a man with a knife, giving his own physical description,” according to a news release from the agency.
A search of Jason’s bedroom supports reports that the teen had been despondent for a few days before his death, the DOJ said without elaborating.
Jason left school early Wednesday after saying he was ill, School District of Ashland Superintendent Keith Hilts told CNN affiliate KBJR. Hours later, he learned Jason was dead, he said.
Alan Pero told CNN his grandson thought he had the flu, and his father picked him up and took him to his grandparents’ house, where Jason lived, walking distance from his parents’ home.
“When he got home he went to the fridge, got a 7 Up, went to get his blanket as kids do, and then was watching TV,” Alan Pero said, sharing the account of Jason’s uncle, who saw him last.
Alan Pero later received a call from Jason’s dad, explaining Jason had been “shot right in front of the house,” he said. When Alan Pero arrived, he said, police were on the scene and he was told a life-flight helicopter was coming, but police later told him the chopper was no longer en route.
“That’s when I knew what happened. He was gone,” Alan Pero said.
‘He didn’t like fighting’
The eighth-grader was part of his school’s drumming circle, which performed at Ashland’s Veterans Day celebration. Members of the group hung a photo of Jason on an empty chair and included Jason in their song as students locked arms in solidarity, KBJR reported.
Curtis Redbird drove more than 200 miles from Black River Falls to be with his family after learning his cousin had been killed by police. Jason had a “heart of gold,” Redbird told KBJR.
“Baby Jay, he was a real sweet kid. He always had a smile on his face,” he said, according to the station. “Nobody can believe that this happened to him because of the way he is, the way he was.”
Holly Gauthier, Jason’s mother, said he was the only one of her three children she has ever been able to see with her own eyes. She lost her sight to glaucoma when Jason was a toddler.
Gauthier said she was skeptical of the account from authorities, who said her son “lunged” at a sheriff’s deputy.
“I know the kind of boy my son was,” she told CNN.
“I know that lunging could also mean taking a step. It’s all on what words they want to include in their report,” Gauthier said. “It’s almost like they are trying to make my 14-year-old boy look like a man, and he did not. He had a baby face and a boy’s voice.”
“I’ve never seen him hit or swing at anyone,” Pero, the boy’s grandfather, said. “He didn’t like fighting or anything like that.”
“He could write good poems,” he added. “He drummed Native American. He was in band at school, too, and played trumpet.”
Previously, Jason’s relatives had released a statement saying, “The family has no words right now,” and thanking the Bad River community, its tribal council and other tribes for their support.
The state DOJ aims to turn over its reports to the Ashland County District Attorney’s Office by early December.