By Annette Christie
Parole violator back in jail
On November 7, 2016 at approximately 2:19 a.m. the Coloma Township Police Department was dispatched to I-94 westbound near the 38-mile marker for a woman hitchhiking. The officer made contact with the woman, who was walking with her thumb out. The woman, a 47-year-old from Watervliet, was found to be on parole and in violation of curfew. The woman was lodged at the Berrien County Jail for a parole violation.
Shooting of courthouse shooter justified
Berrien County Prosecutor Michael Sepic concludes that the July 11 shooting of inmate Larry Gordon was justified and no criminal charges will result.
Gordon was an inmate at the Berrien County Jail when on July 11 he was taken from the jail to the Berrien County Courthouse for a court hearing. He was dismissed from the court hearing and after being taken out of the courtroom by a Berrien County Sheriff’s deputy, a scuffle ensued and the inmate was able to take the duty weapon of the deputy. Gordon shot the deputy (inflicting non-life threatening injuries), and two court bailiffs (causing death), before being shot by other bailiffs in a standoff.
Sepic released the results of his analysis of the cause of death and criminal responsibility in the July 11, 2016 death of Gordon at the Berrien County Courthouse. Sepic said this release of information will not address civil law implications. Sepic reviewed the materials provided from the Berrien County Sheriff’s Department which included the following: Interviews with witnesses to the shooting of Gordon who were on the 3rd floor of the courthouse; interviews with visitors to the courthouse; interviews with courthouse employees; Michigan State Police crime lab scene reports; Michigan State Police crime lab firearms identification reports; photographs; autopsy reports; courthouse video; and a letter written by Larry Gordon.
Individuals who had been in Courtroom 315 on the 3rd floor of the Berrien County Courthouse, individuals who were in the civil court hallway or civil file room area and a statement of Deputy James Atterberry, makes it clear that Gordon seized Deputy Atterberry’s holstered firearm (a six-shot .357 revolver), wounded the deputy and then shot and killed bailiff Ronald Kienzle and Chief of Courthouse Security Joseph Zangaro. Four bullets were accounted for in that general area.
Gordon was appearing in court on that day for a misdemeanor domestic violence charge was awaiting trial at a later date on additional charges stemming from an incident from April 20, 2016 and was facing life in prison or a significant term of years’ sentence. Statements from inmates, taken after the incident, who were housed in the Berrien County Jail on that day, indicated that Gordon said he would not be able to do a lengthy prison sentence and that he inquired about courthouse layouts and exits.
Looking for an avenue of escape, Gordon shot twice at the glass separation window at the civil file room which separates the civil file room clerks from the public, several feet from the original location of the altercation. Apparently realizing that that provided no means of escape he ran down the civil hallway to the public corridor. The public corridor is an area with elevators, benches and public access to the courtrooms.
Upon entry to the public corridor, Gordon encountered another bailiff who responded to radio calls for assistance by Zangaro minutes before from another location on the 3rd floor. Gordon got by that bailiff and encountered eight courthouse visitors and court staff that were present and were forced at gunpoint down a hallway and up to a glass door that Gordon could not open.
Having heard the same calls for assistance, two more bailiffs responded from different locations on the first floor and came up the stairway together. As they approached the area where bailiff one was, they were informed that he had a gun. Gordon was heard stating that he had hostages while he ordered a hostage to try and break the glass with the base of a metal standing sign that was nearby. The hostage tried to bust the glass with the sign, making a loud bang sound which was similar to gunshots.
Unable to open the door, Gordon began moving across the hallway with a hostage held at gunpoint in front of his body. Two hostages fled to the public corridor while three others followed closely behind Gordon. Then two more hostages fled into the public corridor.
Two bailiffs saw Gordon with the firearm and the hostages. Another bailiff could see him also with the gun and the hostages and witnessed the gun moving forward in an upward motion. That bailiff shot three times with his county issued firearm. Gordon continued moving and another bailiff shot two or three more times. In Gordon’s movement, he provided a clear shot and more shots were fired. Gordon fell to the ground but was still holding the gun near his chest and movement of the weapon occurred by Gordon, so the bailiff fired once more in Gordon’s direction.
Gordon had two gunshot wounds to the chest. The hostage that Gordon was holding as armor was injured by a bullet fired by one of the bailiffs. She was hospitalized and treated for non-life threatening injuries.
Sepic determined through all of the evidence provided that the bailiffs that encountered Gordon would not have known how many times Gordon had shot the weapon that he had before they entered the third floor, nor did they know how many weapons he may have had. They could see that Gordon was in inmate clothing, they could see the firearm exposed, and they were aware of him having hostages and that he was using them as cover.
The bailiffs were held to the same regard as a police officer in that they had the same justification for using deadly force when the subject presents a danger to themselves, to others, or is a fleeing felon who poses a risk to the public, as to members of the public at large. With all of the information provided, Sepic found that both bailiffs had each of those justifications mentioned.
While Gordon spoke to inmates about escape, there is no evidence he received encouragement or aid from another or that he conspired with another. The letters written by Gordon and given to an inmate the morning of July 11 were sealed and not forwarded to any jail personnel or investigators until after the incident.
In the letters authored by Gordon, he stated, “I’ll probably never see either of you again, but I guess I’ll die trying.” He goes on to say that “they” are going to send him away for the rest of his life and that “I’m not going to do it!!!” He adds, “I’m not trying to die, and I don’t want too, I’m just trying to get free and I’ll die trying.”