LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a Missouri woman after a traffic stop this summer will not be charged in her death even though it was possibly avoidable, a special prosecutor announced Monday.
The Pettis County sheriff’s deputy shot Hannah Fizer, 25, after stopping her for traffic violations in Sedalia on June 13.
“There are aspects of the case that lead me to believe that an alternative approach might have avoided the confrontation that led to the officer having to discharge his weapon,” but that is not relevant under Missouri law to whether criminal charges should be filed, special prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff wrote.
The deputy, who has not been identified, told investigators Fizer said she had a gun and was going to shoot him. She reached down to the floorboard of her car and then raised up toward the deputy, prompting him to shoot, Sokoloff said in a report to Pettis County Circuit Court Judge Jeff Mittelhauser.
Missouri law requires that officers have a reasonable belief they are in danger before firing their weapon and based on the circumstances “it cannot be said that the officer did not have a reasonable belief that he was in danger of serious physical injury or death from the actions of the deceased at the time he fired,” the prosecutor said.
No gun was found in Fizer’s car, the Missouri State Highway Patrol said.
Fizer’s family and friends have disputed investigators’ version of events, saying Fizer was on her way to work, did not own a gun and would not have shot anyone.
Fizer’s father, John Fizer, said Monday he was “dumbfounded” after hearing Sokoloff’s findings. He said his daughter would have done “absolutely nothing” to draw the officer’s fire.
“She probably did run a red light. He probably pulled her over for a good reason,” Fizer said. “His good reason stopped right there. Seconds later she’s dead. I’m just numb. I don’t understand it.”
No dashcam or body-camera video of the shooting was available because Pettis County does not provide them to deputies, which Sokoloff said made his findings “somewhat more difficult.”
Video from a nearby restaurant had no audio and was not clear, but it showed Fizer moving around the vehicle “vigorously” and bending down. During the officer’s radio dispatch, Fizer can be heard yelling at the officer and he repeated her threat to shoot him, the prosecutor wrote.
The Pettis County Commission in August approved spending about $43,000 for body cameras for the sheriff’s department.
The shooting came during nationwide protests over police use of force, after George Floyd died after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into the handcuffed Black man’s neck for several minutes.
Fizer was white, as is the deputy. Fizer’s family and friends held several protests in Sedalia criticizing the shooting and demanding answers.
After the findings were announced Monday, Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond issued a statement urging the community to remain calm “as we work together to reduce the polarization this emotional and traumatic event has caused.”
Bond said his office and the Pettis County prosecutor, who asked for a special prosecutor to investigate, had ensured transparency and thoroughness during the investigation. He said the office was awaiting the prosecutor’s report before completing its internal investigation.
Sokoloff suggested in his report that more training in deescalation techniques and sometimes more experience might be necessary for officers.
“The recent spate of these types of avoidable deaths would certainly suggest that a reexamination of training techniques may be in order,” he wrote.