Man details costs of police shooting

Andrew Dowd, The Leader-Telegram, Eau Claire, Wis.
·4 min read

Mar. 3—EAU CLAIRE — A man shot by Eau Claire police in 2015 while he was unarmed faced $235,250 in medical bills, according to the latest filing in his civil lawsuit against the city.

The list of hospital, clinic and rehabilitation center costs were provided on Monday to the U.S. District Court of Western Wisconsin in Tyler C. Holte's lawsuit against Eau Claire and the officer who shot him.

Started in February 2020 by a civil rights complaint filed in federal court, the case is scheduled to reach its conclusion this year.

The city and Holte have until July 2 to each submit confidential letters with terms and conditions they would be willing to settle the case for or proceed to a jury trial scheduled for Aug. 16, according to a schedule set by Magistrate Judge Stephen L. Crocker.

Filed by Madison attorney Jeff Scott Olson, the lawsuit contends that Officer Hunter Braatz used excessive force in the April 1, 2015, shooting of Holte, who was 25 years old then and 30 now.

The day before the shooting, Holte's mother had contacted police out of concern for her son's welfare after he left a sober living residence where he'd been living since his recent release from jail. Also on that day, police learned that Holte missed a check-in with his probation agent, prompting them to issue an arrest warrant for him.

Holte, who had a history of drug use and criminal activity since becoming addicted to pain pills after a 2009 car crash, also had misdemeanor cases pending for battery and drug paraphernalia possession at the time.

On the afternoon of April 1, 2015, Holte's mother drove by an Eau Claire auto repair shop and saw her son and his girlfriend standing outside the building. The mother stopped to talk with him, urging Holte to turn himself in to police. The two argued and then Holte drove off in his mother's vehicle, as she briefly clung to it in an attempt to prevent him from leaving, according to a 2015 report on the case.

A police sergeant waiting nearby in an unmarked squad car saw Holte speed away from the scene, stated the 2015 report and the civil lawsuit. Instead of starting a high-speed pursuit, officers decided to make a plan for making contact with Holte.

Police then learned that Holte's vehicle was at the parking lot outside of VFW Post 305, 1300 Starr Ave. Officers searched for Holte along the wooded waterfront behind the tavern, located him sitting on the hillside and took positions around him.

The civil lawsuit filed by attorney Olson emphasized that one of the officers — the first one to talk with Holte and tell him to show his hands — was carrying a shotgun loaded with bean-bag rounds, which are intended to knock down and stun a person. Other officers had regular firearms.

Holte refused the first officer's commands to hold his hands up multiple times, responding by saying "What did I do?" according to the lawsuit.

Braatz, who was armed with a semi-automatic rifle and at a position downhill from Holte, then told the man to show his hands, which he did not comply with.

After the shooting, Braatz told investigators that he'd been told that Holte had an arrest warrant, did not want to go to jail and may be armed, according to the Eau Claire County District Attorney's report from 2015 that found the officer's actions to be justified. The investigation also cited accounts from family members who said Holte was under the influence of drugs at the time and was suicidal.

Braatz stated in 2015 that he saw Holte moving his right hand and turning toward him, at which time the police officer felt his life was in danger and fired two shots from his rifle. The bullets struck Holte's shoulder and leg, and officers rushed in to provide first aid until paramedics arrived.

No weapon was found on or around Holte. He was never charged for his actions on that day.

Attorney Olson wrote that police responded to Holte's mental health crisis by shooting him with an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, while he was unarmed. The civil complaint filed by Olson seeks compensation for his client's injuries, damages that deter others from similar conduct and punish Braatz for his actions, plus all attorneys' and court costs.

On Wednesday the city released a statement about the lawsuit, defending the actions of Eau Claire police and citing thorough investigation into the incident by multiple agencies in 2015. Since the lawsuit's filing last year, many depositions have been taken, export reports reviewed, and additional investigation and scrutiny into the shooting have happened, the city attorney's office stated.

"We believe this additional information bolsters the conclusions previously reached by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the Eau Claire District Attorney's office, and the City of Eau Claire Police Department regarding the appropriateness of the force used in this case," the statement added.