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The Racine County District Attorney Tricia Hanson will not seek charges against a Caledonia Police Officer who shot and killed a 38-year-old man in August.

Jared R. Nelson

Officer David Baird shot Jared R. Nelson at a residence in the 4800 block of Crystal Springs Drive. The shooting happened after Nelson struck Baird in the head with a meat cleaver. Nelson, who had exhibited symptoms of having a mental health issue, had been squatting illegally in a stranger’s home.

Baird was “well within his right to respond with deadly force in order to protect himself from serious harm or potentially death,” Hanson wrote in a report dated Nov. 25 but released Friday afternoon.

“Ultimately, when confronted by Officer Baird as Mr. Nelson tried to escape the scene, Mr. Nelson reacted with the use of deadly force towards Officer Baird. Officer Baird gave loud verbal commands to drop the knife, but Mr. Nelson did not respond. Officer Baird suffered a serious head injury as a result of Mr. Nelson striking him with a meat cleaver requiring 23 stitches to close,” the report reads.

What happened

A woman and her daughter went to check on their relative’s home at 5 p.m. Aug. 18 because they were away on vacation. As they went into the master bedroom they found Nelson, a man they didn’t know.

Startled to find someone inside the home, the woman’s daughter started to video the interaction. They demanded to know who he was and why he was there. Nelson told them that people were chasing him and that the police had taken the homeowner.

They ordered him to go outside. But as he began to leave, he changed his mind and circled back around toward the bedroom. The two women left the home and fled to a neighbor’s house as they spoke to personnel from the Racine County Joint Dispatch Center.

When Baird, a four-year veteran of the Caledonia Police Department, arrived at the scene he found Nelson in the homeowner’s car. One of the women had blocked him to keep him from leaving. The scene was tense and Baird believed he was seeing a car theft in progress.

The two women saw Nelson trying to back out of the garage. Standing between the two vehicles, Baird realized that the two women were in danger of being crushed. He yelled at them to move away and the two women ran away.

Seeing that no one was behind him, Nelson put the car into reverse at a high rate of speed. But he crashed into an SUV. Unsure of where the women went, Baird’s instincts kicked in and his focus was getting Nelson out of the car before he could kill or severely injure someone.

The confrontation between Nelson and Baird

Running up to the car, Baird saw that the door was unlocked and he opened the door. Nelson looked at Baird with a “deer in the headlights look” and “huge crazy eyes.” He turned away from Baird and grabbed some type of weapon, according to the report.

Reaching into the car to take him into custody, Nelson turned back and he saw a quick flash of something in Nelson’s hand. He swung the object at Baird’s head. And he felt a “whack.”

Baird didn’t lose consciousness, but he knew Nelson had struck him. He grabbed both of his wrists, saw the meat cleaver in his hand, and realized that Nelson was “trying to kill him.”

Aware that he had been severely injured, he thought he might pass out. He tried to disarm Nelson but was unsuccessful. Baird backed away from the car. Nelson got out and started to come at Baird. Backpedaling away from Nelson, he bumped into Sgt. Jim Gardiner.

Baird drew his handgun. Gardiner drew his Taser. Realizing that Nelson still had the meat cleaver and was coming towards Baird, Gardiner drew his gun as well.

Aiming at Nelson’s chest, Baird shot him five times. He stopped shooting when he fell to the ground.

“Sergeant Gardiner still had lethal cover on Mr. Nelson. Officer Baird reported he felt the right side of his head to assess his injury and he felt the blood,” according to the report.

At the hospital, Baird received 23 stitches to his head.

Officers on the Caledonia Police Department did not have body cameras at the time of the incident, but Baird’s microphone did capture the incident on audio.

Mental health issues

Nelson’s car was found parked one street over and it appeared as though he had been living in the car because it was full of his possessions. When investigators searched the home, it looked as if Nelson had spent some time there.

He entered the home through a basement window, which had been blocked with a piece of furniture. A mattress in the basement leaned up against the wall. It had knives sticking out of it as if someone had been throwing knives into the mattress. In the master bedroom, inside the walk-in closet, were a  number of knives on the floor that belonged in the kitchen.

For years, Nelson suffered from mental health and addiction issues.

“In the months leading up to his death, Mr. Nelson had left his apartment over a fear of bugs that could not be discovered by the landlord or exterminators. Mr. Nelson believed that there were demons in clouds and would routinely send photos of clouds to friends asking if they could see the demons,” the report reads.

While he didn’t have a criminal history, he did have 12 prior contacts with various police departments over the course of four months. Four of those contacts happened over the course of two days in four jurisdictions.

  • Aug. 16: Nelson yelled at workers at a church and was asked to move along in Racine.
  • 2:30 p.m. Aug. 17: Officers at the Summit Police Department found Nelson wanding around the entrance to their police department.
  • 3:08 p.m. Aug. 17: Officers with the Delafield Police Department responded to a report of Nelson talking to himself in a parking lot.
  • 5:17 p.m. Aug. 17: A deputy from the Waukesha Sheriff’s Department responded to a report of Nelson showing up at a church saying he had nowhere to go and he hadn’t slept for three days. He was told there was a wedding going on and he had to leave. The officer noted that Nelson didn’t appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but was taking pictures of clouds.

“In the months and days leading up to the unfortunate event, it appeared as though Mr. Nelson’s mental health began to decompensate,” Hanson wrote in the report. “While it is believed that his mental health problems existed for some time, at the time of this incident he was not taking any medications for any mental health conditions.”

Read the initial story: 1 person dead, Caledonia officer injured

Jared Nelson enjoyed time with his family

Caledonia Police release name of man shot in officer-involved shooting

Denise Lockwood has an extensive background in traditional and non-traditional media. She has written for, the Milwaukee Business Journal, Milwaukee Magazine and the Kenosha News.