There will be no criminal charges filed against a Rusk County sheriff’s deputy who was involved in an officer-involved shooting fatality while responding to a domestic incident call in the village of Hawkins nearly two months ago.
The Rusk County District Attorney’s Office reviewed the investigation and announced the actions of Deputy Matthew Wojcik were reasonable acts of self-defense.
Wojcik fired three shots, killing Adam D. Knowlton, 35, at a home in the 400 block of Factory Street on Aug. 12. Officer body camera video released with the district attorney’s findings last week shows Knowlton being pepper sprayed and shocked with a Taser while also refusing to comply with numerous commands from Wojcik to drop a knife attached to a long pole; and if he didn’t he was going to be shot. When Knowlton advanced toward Wojcik in a bedroom and raised the knife toward the officer, Wojcik shot.
Wojcik, Deputy Ben Reisner and EMTs began first aid, but Knowlton was later pronounced dead at a local hospital.
“Wisconsin law allows all persons, including police officers, to use deadly force in an act of self-defense or defense of others if the person reasonably believed that he or another person faced an unlawful interference that created a risk of death or great bodily harm,” Rusk County District Attorney Annette Barna said in a prepared statement. “If, as here, the person’s actions are privileged under the law of self-defense and/or defense of others, they cannot be convicted of any crime,” she stated.
“The district attorney’s office concludes that Deputy Matthew Wojcik’s and Deputy Ben Reisner’s beliefs of imminent danger of death or great bodily harm were reasonable due to Adam Knowlton’s actions of ignoring all of the deputies’ orders, including orders to drop the knife, and warnings that he would be shot; the fact that nonlethal measures of OC (oleoresin capsicum) Pepper spray and Taser were ineffective; and his continued advancement with his knife to close range of Deputy Wojcik,” Barna said. “Deputy Wojcik’s use of deadly force under the circumstances was reasonable and, therefore, privileged under Wisconsin law.”
Family members told investigators Knowlton may have been drinking, he was on different medications and he was acting funny and strangely and hallucinating. Knowlton was on probation and not allowed to drink alcohol.
A family member told investigators, “[Adam] wasn’t himself and his eyes were bulging out. He wasn’t himself. It wasn’t my Adam. He had been drinking.”
“He wasn’t himself tonight. He wasn’t. He was really, really different,” the family member told investigators.
Another family member told investigators Knowlton, was “acting like he was talking to somebody else, but not me, like he was hearing voices and he was trying to reply to them and to try to argue with them.”
They also reported Knowlton was saying he thought someone was trying to kill him.
The Rusk County dispatch center received a phone call from a female in the village of Hawkins at about 9:29 p.m. on Aug. 12 to report Knowlton, her brother, was under probation, he was court ordered not to drink and he was drunk. She told dispatch, “I think we need help please.”
When dispatch asked her if he had been violent, she responded that he’s “acting like he’s heading toward that way” but he had not been violent yet.
Dispatch advised the female they would have deputies respond but it may take a little bit of time because there were no deputies near the Hawkins area. Dispatch then requested Wojcik and Reisner clear from their current call and respond to Hawkins.
At 9:35 p.m,, the female made a second call to dispatch stating that Knowlton had become violent and aggressive and he “charged after my husband” who had to push Knowlton down. She told dispatch that she thought she needed to let someone know. When dispatch inquired about weapons, she indicated that Knowlton does have a knife collection, but she didn’t know if he had any on him or if the knives were in the house.
While en route, deputies were informed by dispatch that the caller, her mother and her husband were currently outside the house and Knowlton had gone into his bedroom. They were also advised at that time that it was confirmed that Knowlton had knives inside of his bedroom.
Wojcik was the first to arrive on the scene where he remained outside to gather information from family until Reisner arrived.
Reisner walked around the house with one of the family members, and he could see Knowlton lying on a bed in a first-floor bedroom. After Reisner informed Wojcik of this, he went back around the house to the window and observed Knowlton walking around the bedroom. Deputies obtained consent to enter the house in order to make contact with Knowlton.
Upon entry, deputies identified themselves and told Knowlton to come out. When Knowlton failed to comply, the deputies moved closer to the bedroom while continuing to order him to come out so they could talk with him. Wojcik made entry into the bedroom with his handgun drawn. Reisner entered the bedroom behind Wojcik and approached the closet opening while Wojcik continued to provide cover with his handgun.
Wojcik could see Knowlton’s knee in the opening of the closet, and he also observed Knowlton holding what has been described as “an edged weapon over 12 inches in length consisting of a blade at the end of a metal rod.”
After multiple orders for Knowlton to drop the knife and step out of the closet were ignored, Deputy Reisner sprayed OC pepper spray into the closet in an attempt to get Knowlton to comply. Knowlton began coughing and swearing at the deputies, but he continued to move around within the closet.
Wojcik continued to order Knowlton to drop the knife numerous times, but he did not comply. As Knowlton began advancing, Wojcik backed away from the closet opening and up onto the bed in the corner of the confined room which created more space between himself and Knowlton.
Reisner fired his Taser on Knowlton as he stepped out of the closet, but Knowlton continued to advance toward Wojcik while pointing the knife at him. Wojcik repeatedly ordered Knowlton to drop the knife and told him if he didn’t, he would be shot. Knowlton failed to comply and advanced closer to Wojcik.
Wojcik then fired three shots.
Knowlton was struck twice in the chest and once in the abdomen by the gunshots. Knowlton fell to the floor.
Reisner left to retrieve a first aid kit from his squad car while Wojcik remained with Knowlton, speaking with him to keep him conscious.
Knowlton continued to be combative with law enforcement as they administered medical aid. Upon their arrival, EMTs also gave aid.
A family member told investigators they could hear Knowlton screaming in pain and law enforcement telling Knowlton to “keep breathing, keep breathing.”
Knowlton was transported by ambulance to Rusk County Memorial Hospital in Ladysmith, where he was pronounced deceased.
An autopsy report revealed one penetrating gunshot wound to the chest, one penetrating gunshot wound to the abdomen, and one perforating gunshot wound to the chest. The cause of death was reported as loss of blood due to multiple gunshot wounds.
A search warrant was executed at the home and a suicide note, letters, correspondence, knife, fired bullet and Taser cartridges and other items were recovered.
The investigation was completed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice, Division of Criminal Investigation with some assistance from the Wisconsin State Patrol.