The officers who shot and killed a man reportedly operating a stolen backhoe used to destroy property on Dec. 13 will not face criminal charges.
Special Prosecutor D.J. Sigler Jr. said the “multiple gunshot wounds” that resulted in the “tragic” death of 36-year-old Matthew T. Melzoni were justified, according to his investigation report released Tuesday evening.
“The law enforcement officers who responded to this event 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 wrote in his report. “Further, the operation of the backhoe was occurring in a densely populated residential area.”
Indiana State Police initially reported that “an exchange of gunfire took place, resulting in the injury of one Huntington police officer, and the death of the adult male suspect.” ISP released a correction Dec. 18 stating Melzoni never fired at officers.
Investigators found no evidence that Melzoni was armed during the incident, according to Sigler’s conclusion.
Sigler said independent civilian eyewitness accounts reportedly corroborated evidence that the officers followed use of deadly force policies and “repeatedly attempted to use non-lethal means to de-escalate” the situation prior to using force.
“Witnesses described officers loudly engaging the suspect verbally, repeatedly identifying themselves as law enforcement officers, flashing lights at him and pleading with the suspect to stop the vehicle,” Sigler wrote. “Additionally, witnesses corroborate police reports that they first made efforts to shoot the tires of the vehicle in order to get it to stop.”
Police say the suspect approached officers in a backhoe before “crashing” through gates around Horace Mann Middle School. Sigler stated “the backhoe charged at them with speed, causing them to fear for their lives and safety.”
At least one officer reported that his firearm was “completely ‘inadequate’ against the steel construction of the backhoe,” according to Sigler’s investigation.
Sigler said “the death of the suspect, though regrettable, was the direct result of the suspect’s chosen, criminal course of conduct.”
The report says a woman with a valid protective order against Melzoni called central dispatch around 3 a.m. stating she was the victim of active felony cases and that Melzoni was “causing issues” while operating heavy machinery.
Melzoni was out on bond for charges alleging intimidation with a deadly weapon, domestic battery with a deadly weapon and strangulation, according to Sigler.
“Multiple officers identified the suspect from prior criminal dealings and all knew Melzoni had a significant drug and violent history,” Sigler wrote in his report.
Court records described in Sigler’s investigation and later confirmed by the Herald-Press show Melzoni was convicted for aiding in dealing methamphetamine.
A relative of Melzoni was interviewed by police following the incident. The relative reportedly told investigators that Melzoni called him around 10 p.m. Dec. 12 “making paranoid claims about being chased by unknown persons” and that Melzoni had “jumped in the river to escape from those chasing him.”
Sigler said Melzoni’s paranoia was consistent with prior interactions with law enforcement.
“There is no evidence to support that Melzoni was being chased by anyone,” Sigler wrote. “After picking Melzoni up, the (relative) indicated that Melzoni was talking ‘nonsense.’ Melzoni further revealed that he had used about $25.00 worth of dope earlier in the evening.”
Police say dope meant methamphetamine, according to Sigler’s report.
To conclude his report, Sigler wrote, “The shooting of Matthew Melzoni – while tragic – was justified by the imminent and deadly threat he posed to the citizens of Huntington County and the police officers sworn to keep the peace.”
Huntington County Prosecutor Amy Richison recused herself from the investigation, leading to an independent investigation by Wells County prosecutors.
The officers who shot Melzoni were not identified despite media requests.
Sigler said subsequent requests for information would be released at a later date.
This story will be updated as more information is made available.