LAKE HAVASU CITY – Michael Judge lay on the road, bleeding from several gunshot wounds as officers cordoned off the area and prepared for the investigation.
After deciding he wanted to start his life over, Judge, 34, got dressed, armed himself with a handgun, and walked out the door of his apartment in Lake Havasu City, determined never to return.
A few hours later after an argument with his mother, she called 911. Statements made to dispatchers led them to interpret – and relay to officers – that Judge was suicidal. Lake Havasu City police officers, reacting to this information and seeing the gun already drawn when they confronted him, were forced to fire on Judge after he raised his pistol in their direction.
As the officers rushed in to secure Judge, the call for paramedics and backup went out. The southbound lanes of State Route 95 were completely shut down and officers had a lot of work to do.
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Judge did not survive his wounds and was pronounced dead at the scene. Judge’s mother, Jackie Parrish, observed the whole incident because she was parked just up the road.
Officer Ken Dukes was asked to escort Parrish away from the scene since she continued to ask if her son was OK.
Police Officers Jacob Bekkedahl, Earl Chalfont and John Stanley, the three officers dispatched to handle the situation, removed themselves from the crime scene per department regulations as other officers arrived to take control of the area.
Lake Havasu City Police Department notified the Kingman Police Department and asked them to conduct the investigation.
See CONCLUSIONS, Page 2A
Witnesses were contacted and asked to give statements. Judge’s body eventually was removed from the scene. As the investigation progressed, events that took place during the incident were broken down into increments measured in seconds with each officer’s actions examined in minute detail. In taped interviews conducted on the day of the shooting, KPD Detective Mike Bolt, Joel Freed and Sgt. Rusty Cooper asked why each officer discharged their weapons.
“Just to prevent myself from being killed and my, my officers and trying to protect the people behind me,” said Bekkedahl. “I didn’t want to have myself or my other officers, or anybody else get shot.”
Stanley said he realized they were in a bad situation and that there were civilians behind them who could get hurt as well. “Basically, I became extremely concerned the closer that he got to us,” said Stanley. “I mean absolutely, you know he was basically forcing the situation in the sense that he had the weapon, he would not listen to us … He would not stop with the verbal commands. Officer Bekkedahl gave those. I gave them. You know immediately I thought … this is not good.”
Chalfant said he fired his weapon for one simple reason, “He leveled his pistol on me, my partner and about a whole load of people behind us.” Parrish, interviewed by this reporter earlier this month, understood the situation, but believed it could have been prevented. She described Judge’s 1995 brain injury, his slow recovery, his recent depression and how determined her son was to leave Lake Havasu City. “The last thing you do to somebody who is distressed is shout commands and put them in a corner,” she said. “He had already walked all the way through town and gone to a convenience store. He had nothing in front of him but miles and miles of desert.”
Assistant Police Chief Randy McCaleb noted Judge’s history as a law-abiding citizen with no criminal record. However, McCaleb pointed out that the officers on the scene had to react to the situation as it was presented to them.
“The gun changes everything,” said McCaleb. “The police department jumped to conclusions,” said Parrish. “I never used the word suicidal.”
Asked why a man recovering from a brain injury was allowed to possess a gun purchased before his accident, Parrish said that she kept the gun until about a year before his death. “He asked for his gun back to get back into target shooting,” said Parrish, indicating target shooting was one of her son’s passions. “I was afraid if I didn’t (give the gun back to him) that I’d send the message ‘You’re not ready. You’re not capable.’ It’s a decision I’ll regret for the rest of my life.”
Phoenix-area investigators Rich Robertson, Anthony Britnell and Don Keenom all said that they believe Judge might have been talked down from the situation if police had staged farther up the road and allowed more time for senior officers to arrive.
“If time permits,” said Britnell, “and I think it did in this situation, why not continue to let him walk along this isolated stretch of road and come up with a plan?”
LHCPD Chief John Alexander and McCaleb both thought it was unfortunate that other people not connected to the incident would try and second-guess months after the fact about decisions made in split seconds. “Remember, they did try and speak to him over the PA system,” said McCaleb. “And he may have had the gun holstered when he left The Home Depot, but it was in his hand when he approached the officers. Setting up further back may not have changed the situation at all.”
Judge’s body was taken to Maricopa County for examination there, followed by the KPD investigators. An autopsy confirmed Judge’s death from multiple gunshot wounds and a toxicology report came back clean.
Joe Collier, a criminalist hired by Robertson, reported in the investigators’ conclusions that at the time of the shooting, Judge was standing upright and pointing it in an “undetermined downward angle.” None of the independent investigators interviewed any members of the LHCPD during the course of their investigation. Parrish has gone on with her life since the tragic events of that day, and is determined to have people remember her son for reasons other than statistics. “Mike loved to make people laugh,” said Parrish. “And when he was worried, he would always come and talk to his mother.”
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