Wadena County attorney: Officer's use of deadly force was justified, no charges in February shooting that left an officer injured and 2 men dead
Investigation shows suspect Shannon Savela shot at and struck officers and his own brother before he himself and his brother were shot and killed in the gunfire.
Wadena County Attorney Kyra Ladd announced Monday, Aug. 23, there will be no charges against the two officers involved in a shooting that left two men dead and an officer injured in a heated confrontation six months ago on a gravel road near Nimrod.
The Wadena County Attorney's Office began a comprehensive review of the case on June 21, 2021, after receiving the report from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension on June 18.
The shootout involved four men, Shannon Savela, of Sebeka, who reportedly opened fire first injuring Wadena County Sheriff's Deputy Troy Mayer, his brother David Savela, also of Sebeka and then striking Sebeka police officer Jason Worm in his bullet-proof vest. As David Savela pulled his own handgun, officer Worm returned fire, hitting David in the chest, killing him, He then exchanged shots with Shannon, who later died of his injuries at the Wadena hospital.
Ladd said the determination that the shooting was justified was made after carefully applying the "use of deadly force" law.
Wadena County Report on Savela Shooting by inforumdocs on Scribd
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Activity was the lead agency in the investigation and the information reviewed regarding the shooting deaths came from the BCA case file. The case review involves activity that occurred in rural Wadena County on Feb. 27, 2021, as a result of a traffic stop with the initial law enforcement encounter with D. Savela and later, with S. Savela. In addition to the comprehensive reports in this case file, there also exists in excess of five hours of squad car and body camera video; and in excess of nine hours of audio recorded interviews, according to the attorney's office news release.
"The entirety of the case file submitted to the County Attorney's Office by the BCA has been thoroughly reviewed and based on that review, this office will not be proceeding with any charges relating to the events of February 27, 2O21, for the reasons outline herein," the release states.
Ladd said making a decision on this case was not easy considering the unfortunate outcome, however, she said early on and with each bit of digital and forensic evidence before her, it became very apparent that the officers were doing what they needed to do "and doing it correctly."
"It was not officer initiated or officer led," Ladd said of start of the incident. "It's not always this clear."
Under the state statute concerning use of deadly force, it reads "peace officers use deadly force only when necessary in defense of human life or to prevent great bodily harm. In determining whether deadly force is necessary, officers shall evaluate each situation in light of the particular circumstances of each case ..."
And "the use of deadly force by a peace officer in the line of duty is justified only if an objectively reasonable officer would believe, based on the totality of the circumstances known to the officer at the time and without the benefit of hindsight, that such force is necessary to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm ..."
The report goes on to detail the traffic stop that led to the shooting. Details from this report were not shared earlier in the case, including the reason for the initial traffic stop — two vehicles speeding.
The report explains that Mayer was on routine patrol when he spotted two vehicles approaching at high speed. He clocked the vehicles at 80 mph in a 55 mph zone. He activated his lights and began pursuit. At that time, one driver, Shannon, pulled over. David Savela continued on at a high rate of speed. Radioing that information to dispatch, Mayer continued in pursuit of David. Mayer happened to have a civilian on a ride-along during this particular evening.
David continued to 205th Avenue, just west of Nimrod, and turned south. Mayer continued after him with emergency lights and then activated his squad siren after he would not stop.
A curve in the icy road to 270th Street sent David off the road. He attempted to turn around to come back toward Mayer, but Mayer blocked his way causing David to became stuck.
At this point Mayer exited his vehicle and began giving David instructions to stop, but the report said the suspect continued to try to drive away. At that point, David's brother, Shannon arrived and began yelling at the deputy. Mayer commanded him to stay in his vehicle while he continued to get David to comply.
About 4 minutes into his body camera footage, Deputy Mayer is communicating with David and attempting to deescalate the situation. During the conversation, David begins making complaints about "political conspiracies" saying the officer is "fake law enforcement" mentioning "fake news" and "fakery of the encryption."
At one point, David said he "is taking national security matters into his own hands" and that Mayer "is infringing on his protections of this nation and sovereignty by making any such pursuit". David then told the officer, in a highly agitated state, to "stand down" and that "Trump is still President, it's his second term!"
At the time of the encounter, David was charged with a misdemeanor crime of fleeing and had a pending a jury trial on the same charge, according to Wadena County court records.
At just after 6 minutes into the body camera footage, officer Worm arrived and gave similar commands to Shannon to stay in his vehicle. Meanwhile, Mayer continued to work with David, who again tried to leave the scene nearly 9 minutes into the interaction. Mayer eventually told David he is under arrest and in an attempt to arrest him he deployed a Taser that had no effect on him.
With both Mayer and Worm wrestling with David, Shannon appeared at the front passenger side of Mayer's vehicle and after shouting at the officers to stand down, he fired five shots at them, hitting Mayer in the buttocks/lower spine with one shot and, according to the findings, he hit his brother David in both the neck and buttocks. It's later found that Mayer was also struck in his bullet-proof vest during this encounter and Worm was struck in the vest either at this point or upon returning fire with Shannon.
The officers took cover at the front of David's car and David, who was suffering from gunshot wounds, stood up pulled a handgun from his waistband and turned towards the officers. At that moment, Officer Worm shot David twice in the chest, killing him. David can be seen on video footage pulling his gun. The action was also corroborated by both officers and the passenger sitting right next to where Shannon was firing his gun in Mayer's squad, findings show.
Out of view of the squad car and body camera footage, Officer Worm stepped around the side of David's vehicle and 13 shots were fired in a span of 10 seconds. The report does not state who fired the 13 shots, though Shannon was hit six times and eventually died from his wounds at Tri-County Health Care in Wadena. He was hit mainly in his chest and thighs.
The report states that the officers found David deceased and then rendered aid to Shannon until an ambulance arrived on scene. Toxicology reports note that the brothers had "methamphetamine, its metabolite amphetamine, and cannabinoids" in their systems.
The attorney's report lays the reason for use of deadly force on Shannon for beginning the shootout.
"It was Shannon that initiated deadly force, as he shot his gun first at his brother and the officers, wounding Deputy Mayer and his brother," the report states. "Just moments after the officers were fired upon by Shannon, David Savela gets up off the ground, reaches for his gun, turning toward the officers and it is in this context, that Officer Worm fires his gun two times at David, as the dangerous and deadly situation is objectively apparent.
"The risk and danger do not end when David is disabled because officers are still under threat of further danger from Shannon Savela, his whereabouts were unknown, as Shannon was the initiating aggressor using deadly force," the report continues. "Officers, in the dark of the night, attempt to locate Shannon while maintaining some sort of cover, having already been fired upon by Shannon."
Ladd has been Wadena County Attorney for 15 years and she said she has never reviewed an officer involved shooting in the county. She said in this case, the video, while it did not capture every moment, was invaluable in the process. Officer Worm did not have a body camera during this incident. She does not discount the accounts of those involved as that information helped to complete the whole picture.
Why the two brothers were speeding on County Road 12 that cold February night was not reported or detailed as part of this review. Such a situation is not atypical though, according to Ladd. A stop for speeding and a driver trying to escape officers happens often enough. But the turn of events that led to the deaths of Shannon and David Savela were "very unfortunate," she added.
A planned meeting between the surviving Savela family and the Wadena County Attorney's Office was scheduled recently, but Ladd said the family canceled the meeting and has made plans to review the decision and discuss it with their attorney.
Ladd explained that the Wadena County Attorney's Office acts independently in reviewing such a case that occured in the county. In this case, the officer who fired the shots was a Sebeka Police Officer, a department, further separated from the county. Ladd said these situations require a process in reviewing the case.
"We have to go through a process always in all of our cases in whether or not we have conflicts," Ladd said. The county does not have to accept or agree to help with such a conflict, but chose to do so using the BCA findings.
A request for further comment from Wadena County Sheriff Mike Carr was not returned.