DA rules that shooting of John Marszalek II was "reasonable"

Steve Garrison
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — The San Juan County District Attorney's Office has determined the shooting of John Marszalek II by Deputy U.S. Marshal Chris Spencer was reasonable, and no further action will be taken.

A report released Thursday by the office points to three elements that guided the ruling: the 911 calls that preceded the shooting, evidence that suggested the 26-year-old Farmington man was attempting to flee the scene when he was shot and the proximity of the scene to two schools with classes in session.

"The officer reasonably believed that the use of deadly force was necessary based upon the circumstances described both in his statement and supported by the evidence collected as a result of the subsequent investigation," the report concludes.

The office reviewed case files compiled by Farmington police, audio and video files, statements made by witnesses, statements from the officers involved, the medical investigator's report of finding, a toxicology report and photographic evidence from the scene.

The medical investigator's report determined Marszalek died of blood loss, caused by both the stab wounds to his neck and the gunshot wound. The death was ruled a homicide. The toxicology report found Marszalek had marijuana in his system at the time of his death, but the DA is still waiting on additional testing to determine whether he had "spice," or synthetic marijuana, in his system.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Dustin O'Brien said the additional testing may take months, and he felt his office could make a determination without the evidence.

He said the 911 calls, which flooded dispatch during the chaotic 30-minute car chase, were "telling" when it came to evaluating Spencer's decision.

Callers began alerting law enforcement to Marszalek's erratic and dangerous behavior at 2:03 p.m. on March 12, according to a log of radio and 911 calls. One woman told dispatch at 2:05 p.m. that an unidentified man was dancing on the sunroof of his blue Dodge pickup near East 20th Street and East Main Street while the vehicle was traveling "extremely fast."

Less than a minute later, a different woman reported her vehicle was sideswiped by the pickup.

Police were in pursuit of the vehicle within minutes, but the chase was stopped at 2:15 p.m. because of the heavy traffic. Marszalek was monitored by the San Juan County Sheriff's Office helicopter as he zigzagged his way through east Farmington, and he eventually contacted dispatch.

"If you guys don't leave me alone, then trust me, it's not going to go in their favor," he told an operator, according to the 911 log.

Marszalek sped up and slowed down seemingly at random, at one point blazing past the EZ Shade on East Main Street at 100 miles per hour, according to dispatch. Police in Aztec, Farmington and Flora Vista began laying tire deflation devices on major roadways beginning at 2:20 p.m.

The sheriff's helicopter reported at 2:30 p.m. that Marszalek had slammed his truck into a Farmington police squad car at the intersection of 20th Street and Butler Avenue.

According to the DA's report, Spencer pulled up his vehicle behind the truck and approached on the right side. Two Farmington police officers approached on the left and saw Marszalek stabbing himself in the throat.

"Those officers were able to break the driver's side rear window and deploy Tasers in an attempt to subdue the driver, however, the Tasers had no effect," the report notes.

Spencer could see from his vantage point that the truck's right rear tire was spinning on the pavement, and the vehicle was pushing forward against the Farmington squad car.

It was later determined the right rear tire was worn down to 1/32 tread while the other three tires had 10/32 treads, the report notes.

Spencer, aware that both Farmington High School and Apache Elementary School would soon begin releasing students, tried to open the vehicle's doors, but they were locked. Fearing that Marszalek may escape, he shot the man once in the head, according to the DA's report.

Marszalek was transported to San Juan Regional Medical Center, where he succumbed to his wounds.

Farmington Police Chief Steve Hebbe said he believed, after consulting with his detectives, that the district attorney's office was thorough in its investigation and seemed to understand the facts that were presented.

"I think this was, as I said at the time, it was a tragedy for the family. It was a difficult call for us from the beginning," he said. "It was very unusual, the driver's actions before the incident and the self-stabbing."

He said a positive testing for spice might better explain Marszalek's actions, but he supported the DA's decision to move forward with a determination.

Marszalek's father could not immediately comment on the report. The late Marszalek's aunt, Jodie Andrus, said she believed the family should pursue the matter in court.

"I know that my brother is not happy with it," she said. "A lot of stuff did not make sense, a lot of it was made up. I don't think we will really know what would happen unless we went to court."

Andrus reiterated the fact that Marszalek had no prior criminal record. He was employed and attending school.

"You see people all the time walking around at 11 a.m. that are arrested," she said. "You don't see people shooting them in the back in my state."

Andrus and several other members of the Marszalek family reside in Michigan.

A spokesman for the U.S. Marshals Service said in an email that his office received the DA's report on Friday. The service is continuing its own use-of-force investigation.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4644 and Follow him on Twitter @SteveGarrisonDT on Twitter.