KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Pettis County sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a woman during a traffic stop three months ago in Sedalia will not face charges.
Hannah Fizer, 25, was shot and killed June 13 on her way to work during a traffic stop in which she allegedly told the officer she had a gun and would shoot the deputy, though no gun was located in the vehicle.
Special Prosecutor Stephen Sokoloff’s report, which had been requested in early August, released Monday determined that “the shooting, albeit possibly avoidable, was justifiable under current Missouri criminal law.”
Sokoloff concluded that “an alternative approach might have avoided the confrontation” that led to Fizer’s death, “but that is not relevant to a determination of whether criminal liability would attach.”
According to Sokoloff’s report, Fizer was uncooperative with the officer. She told the deputy she was recording him, that she had a gun and would shoot him, according to the report.
Sokoloff said that Fizer’s actions, reaching down toward the floorboard of the vehicle and raising up suddenly, provide justification for the deputy’s actions.
“Based on the information and circumstances available to the officer during the event, it cannot be said that the officer did not have reasonable belief that he was in danger of serious physical injury or death from the actions of the deceased at the time he fired,” Sokoloff wrote in his letter to Pettis County Associate Circuit Court Judge Jeff Mittelhauser.
Under Missouri law, a law enforcement officer’s use of deadly force is justified if he reasonably believes he is in imminent danger.
“The reasonableness of the officer’s belief must be evaluated based on how circumstances reasonably appeared to the officer at the time, not based on how those circumstances may have later been discovered actually to have been,” Sokoloff wrote.
Based on that standard, he continued, he is “ethically obligated not to file charges.”
“Whenever any kind of encounter between law enforcement and citizens ends in a loss of life, it is highly regrettable,” Sokoloff wrote. “When that loss of life is avoidable, it becomes more so. But where the legal standard for justification on the use of force is met, criminal prosecution is not an available remedy to address it.”
He continues to suggest that better training on de-escalation techniques may have prevented Fizer’s death.
"During the course of this investigation, both I and the Pettis County Prosecuting Attorney have ensured this matter be handled by professional, independent agencies," Pettis County Sheriff Kevin Bond said in a statement. "This has ensured transparency and thoroughness of the investigation and subsequent prosecutorial review. We at the Sheriff’s Office have allowed to Rule of Law to properly take its course, and we await delivery of the report to complete our internal investigation into the matter.
"Our hearts continue to go out to the Fizer family, and we encourage calmness in the community as we work together to reduce the polarization this emotional and traumatic event has caused."
There is no audio recording of the encounter other than the deputy’s communication with dispatchers.
The Pettis County deputy did not wear a body-worn camera and the only video of the incident, recorded by a nearby business’ surveillance feed, did not include audio.
Fizer’s death sparked outrage among some in Sedalia, coming less than three weeks after George Floyd’s killing by police in Minneapolis touched off protests nationwide.
Bond penned an open letter to the community pushing back against protests of Fizer’s death.
Fizer’s father, who lives in Liberty, questioned the official version of events surrounding his daughter's death.
For jurisdictions that utilize the Greater Kansas City Crime Stoppers Tips Hotline, anonymous tips can be made by calling 816-474-TIPS (8477), submitting the tip online or through the free mobile app at P3Tips.com.
Annual homicide details and data for the Kansas City area are available through the 41 Action News Homicide Tracker, which was launched in 2015.