In the early morning hours of March 31, a Columbia Township Police officer responded to a call at Lake Columbia. During that encounter, the officer discharged his weapon three times. Thirty-six year old Erik Neilson was pronounced dead at the scene. The officer, six year veteran Ben Hovarter, was placed on administrative leave. Michigan State Police concluded their investigation on May 20th. Yesterday (July 1), Jackson County Prosecutor Jerard Jarzynka released his review. In it, he concluded Officer Hovarter “was justified in discharging his service weapon to protect his own life that night.” Further, the prosecutor notes “this use of deadly force would certainly not rise to the level necessary to render criminal charges against this police officer.”
The autopsy revealed three gunshot wounds–right lateral chest, left back, and posterior left shoulder. Prosecutor Jarzynka comments about the location of the wounds:
Though not mentioned above, Prosecutor Jarzynka states earlier in the sequence of events that “Officer Hovarter responded by deploying his taser at least two times on Erik Nielsen.”
Ben Hovarter remains on administrative leave. Columbia Township Police Chief Jay Niles says he will remain on leave during an internal departmental review.
Prosecutor Jarzynka writes the purpose of his review was “not to determine whether the police officer could have or might have done something differently. Rather, the sole question to be decided is whether the shooting of Erik Nielsen was the result of a criminal act” by the officer.