Nov. 4—CADILLAC — In a 10-page report released this week, Wexford County Prosecuting Attorney Corey Wiggins outlined why his office will not be pursuing charges against the Cadillac Police Department officer who shot and killed a Cadillac man in August.
Matthew Bigler, 49, was wielding a machete when he ran at the police officer on Aug. 12.
This is the second fatal shooting in the region in the past three months that involved the use of deadly force by a police officer.
In the other case, a 41-year-old Missaukee County woman was shot and killed on Oct. 5 by a Grand Traverse County Sheriff’s officer when the Northern Michigan Mutual Aid Task Force Emergency Response Team attempted to execute a search warrant for her arrest in Norwich Township.
Michigan State Police have provided their report on the incident to Missaukee County Prosecutor David DenHouten, who is reviewing those findings.
In the Bigler case, which was found to be a justifiable use of deadly force, Wiggins’ report does not come to any conclusions about what caused Bigler to act as he did.
But Bigler’s probation officer told Wiggins information that he believes might help explain what happened that night.
The Michigan Department of Corrections’ Offender Tracking Information System shows Bigler was on probation at that time for assaulting, resisting and obstructing a police officer on March 26 in Oceana County. He had pleaded to that charge and was sentenced July 17.
Bigler had a conviction in 2011 for third-degree fleeing from a police officer; and larceny from a person on Aug. 7, 1994, both in Kent County. He had served 2 1/2 years in prison as a result.
But the probation officer said Bigler had “stated that, during a prior arrest, he was hoping he would have been shot, and that was why he acted as he did during that arrest,” the report said.
“This knowledge was not known to Officer A at the time,” the report noted, “and, accordingly, it was not considered in the outcome of this case.”
Wiggins said he will not be releasing the name of the officer because no charges will be filed against him.
Police confirmed Bigler’s identity after he was killed, but Wiggins’ office redacted Bigler’s name from the report.
“While the death … is tragic for his family, the witnesses and the officer involved, it is my opinion that use of deadly force by Officer A was justified under the circumstances,” Wiggins wrote. “Accordingly, criminal charges will not be authorized for the August 12, 2023 death…”
Body camera footage
This report is the first statement law enforcement has released since Aug. 16, four days after Bigler died, and the day the officer’s body camera footage was released to local media.
The police body camera footage starts at 9:23 p.m. Aug. 12 as the officer is driving his patrol car and the 911 call comes in. He is directed to go to Bigler’s house on Aldrich Street.
The dispatcher tells him that the people who called are inside the house, and that Bigler was trying to break into a neighbor’s shed.
The officer also was informed that Bigler was armed with a machete, Wiggins’ report states.
After the officer arrives at the scene, the video shows him talking to a neighbor who says Bigler had just pushed in his air-conditioning unit, and he “could hear him banging on my house.”
At that point, the officer approaches the residence next door, where a woman tells him that Bigler charged at her when she got home from work, saying that he loved her, but she needed to “get out of here.”
The officer questions the woman and the neighbor to learn of a possible reason why Bigler would charge at people with a weapon. He also instructs the dispatcher to run Bigler’s name through their criminal records search system.
Then he knocks on a door that appears to lead to a backyard and shouts Bigler’s name. As he opens the door, the figure of a man can be seen in the yard holding a machete above a dog’s neck. The situation escalates quickly.
The officer shouts, “Hey bud,” to which Bigler looks up and replies with an expletive.
Bigler appears to be preparing to strike the dog with the machete. The officer yells, “Don’t do that,” to Bigler, then alerts central dispatch that the subject is armed and advises that he has his weapon drawn.
At that moment, Bigler’s attention is diverted to the officer and, wielding the machete, he charges at him.
“It is during this time that Officer A fires two rounds,” Wiggins describes in the report. “While unclear due to the angle of the bodycam and the lighting, it is believed that Mr. [redacted] falls to the ground as a result of the shots.”
Wiggins said he estimates a 6-second delay between the second and third bullets that were fired at Bigler. By the time the third shot hits him, he is on the ground.
“Central, shots fired,” the officer shouts, while Bigler screams in pain, yells an expletive and continues to scream as the officer calls for EMS personnel.
“Three shots fired and subject down,” the officer reports, adding, “I need as many units as I can, I got the subject down now.”
In the background, as the officer communicates with central dispatch, the video feed picks up muffled sounds and the cries of a woman saying, “No, no, no, no. Please save him.”
Michigan State Police have marked this part of the video as “redacted,” and Bigler’s body is blurred.
The remainder of the body camera footage shows the officer administering chest compressions in an effort to save the man’s life.
“Come on, buddy, stay with me here,” he says while giving the compressions.
This goes on for about 2 minutes and 33 seconds before emergency services arrive on the scene.
Wiggins said in his report that the officer fired the fatal shot at 21:37:40 that night. Based on his calculations, Bigler was pronounced dead less than 5 minutes later at 21:42.
The Michigan State Police Crime Scene Response Team was called to the scene to assist in the investigation. They arrived at 2:15 a.m.
During the course of their investigation, they collected two 9mm pistols, a black hatchet, three fired 9mm shell casings, a machete and one bullet fired in the ground in the backyard as physical evidence.
The team also review radio traffic and body camera footage from the two Cadillac Police Department officers who were there that night.
Part of the finalized report submitted by Wiggins shows an autopsy and toxicology analysis of Bigler’s body conducted through the Western Michigan University School of Medicine.
The toxicology report states that there were no “controlled substances” found in Bigler’s system at the time of his death.
According to the autopsy results, Bigler suffered from gunshot wounds to the right and left sides of his chest. “The cause of death was determined by the forensic pathologist to be multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death is homicide,” the report said.
Wiggins said that there is a difference between the manner of death and any legal conclusion that follows.
“Just because the manner of death is determined to be a homicide, the pathologist is not drawing a legal conclusion as to whether it is a justifiable use of deadly force,” he wrote.
Wiggins outlines his reasons for why the officer was justified in killing Bigler in self-defense, noting that the officer never had any interaction with Bigler before that night.
The officer did not know what Bigler might have been capable of during that encounter, Wiggins wrote.
In a footnote at the bottom of page seven, Wiggins notes that the officer did not offer statements on the incident or identify himself as law enforcement during the interaction with Bigler, but it was obvious he was a police officer because he was in full uniform.
Wiggins concludes his analysis with the finding that the officer had a right to use deadly force to protect himself that night and no charges would be filed in this case.