As we sympathetically mourn the death this weekend of two seasoned Westerville, Ohio police officers shot in the course of responding to a domestic situation involving a dangerous man, we continue to investigate what happened in Manistee to Lee Pat Milks, who was shot nearly a year ago in his home by a Manistee police officer, Doug Vansickle (both pictured below).
A Ludington Torch member in good standing asked me to provide details of what I had said was conflicting official stories relating what happened at the incident. To do this, I have reviewed numerous stories that appeared locally, nationally, and even internationally regarding this shooting. As many media effectively parrot what other media and news organizations print, I ferreted out all of the essentially the same articles. Many followed the template of the Associated Press, which is typical in the news business.
In the end I drew from a baker's dozen of news articles that came out immediately after the shooting and then compare the general consensus of them with what was said at the Manistee news conference held late in the afternoon just before the Fourth of July weekend, seemingly to make the story vanish between news cycles. That official strategy worked, only a few news agencies covered the story, most in little detail since the story was essentially what was related earlier. This article will look at those little differences that appear to be substantial when you consider that all Manistee authorities still are actively withholding FOIA requests for records from the incident. Here are links to the original 14 sources used:
6) WOOD TV
8) WUPM News
10) WWMT Channel 3
11) TV 9&10
Some of the differences may be ascribed to some media leaving some material on the cutting room floor, but not all. Here's what my investigation uncovered (abbrevations: LPM: Lee Pat Milks, UO: Unnamed officer, CDB: Chief David Bachman, CE: code enforcement):
1) UO doing CE when he came across LPM with a rifle in his hand, who ordered the officer to get away. UO called for backup, and LPM refused to put down his weapon. LPM began to put a bullet in the chamber of the gun and started to aim it at UO. UO responded by shooting Milks.
2) UO doing blight enforcement, LPM came out of the house, brandishing a long gun. LPM ordered UO away from the area and additional officers were called in. "So the UO tried to de-escalate the situation he tried to say, 'you know Lee it doesn't have to happen this way', the guy chambered a round, started swinging at towards officer, and the officer engaged and fire rounds," said CDB.
3) Nothing about CE. LPM brandished a long gun at an UO, telling him to get away from the area, then chambered a round. LPM was bringing his weapon, which was loaded, up to point at the UO when the UO used his handgun to shoot Milks.
4) CDB says the officer was conducting “blight enforcement” when he saw an old bus parked in Milks’ backyard. “He made contact with the owner of the bus and asked to take a look at it, The guy said ‘sure’ and went back in his house and came back out with a rifle. LPM told the UO to leave his property while he chambered a round in the AK-47-style rifle. The UO fired multiple shots."
5) UO was in the area to enforce minor ordinances, an UO opened fire on LPM after LPM came out of his house with a long gun and told the UO to leave. LPM ignored the UO's orders to drop his weapon and instead loaded it and started pointing it at the UO. He was shot less than 10 minutes after the encounter began.
6) CDB says the UO was conducting ordinance enforcement Tuesday evening when LPM came out of a house with a gun. CDB said LPM told the UO to go away and the UO told him to drop the weapon.
CDB says LPM had “stopped, chambered a round and was bringing the weapon to bear on the UO” when the UO fired multiple times.
7) CDB says the UO conducting CE shot LPM after LPM came out of a house with a gun and told the officer to go away. CDB says the UO told LPM to drop the gun, LPM had 'stopped, chambered a round and was bringing the weapon to bear on the UO' when the UO fired multiple times. The UO, however, became alarmed when LPM refused his orders to return to his home and began loading his gun. '[LPM] threatened the UO with [the gun], made verbal exchange, the UO tried to diffuse the situation, asked the guy to go back into the house, he said no and he jacked a round into the chamber and when he jacked a round into the chamber the officer engaged him and it ended badly."
8) CDB says LPM was shot after coming out of his house with a gun and refusing orders to drop the weapon when UO was doing ordinance enforcement in his neighborhood. Investigators say not only did LPM not drop the gun, but he chambered a round and was bringing the long gun up and pointing it at the UO when he was shot.
9) In an earlier release, CDB stated the officer who usually investigates abandoned vehicles and blight complaints was doing CE. He came across LPM with a rifle in his hand, who ordered the UO to get away. The UO called for backup, and LPM refused to put down his weapon, CDB said. Before backup arrived, LPM began to put a bullet in the chamber of the gun and started to aim it at the UO. The UO responded by shooting LPM; it did not appear that LPM was able to return fire.
10) CDB says that's exactly what LPM told a UO [Get off my property] who'd come to his home after someone complained about a bus in his backyard. We're told LPM confronted the UO with an assault rifle. The UO shot LPM several times.
11) CDB says it all started Tuesday night when a UO was investigating complaints about neglected, rundown areas. Police say 73-year-old LPM came out of his home with what appeared to be an AK-47 in hand. The UO told LPM to put it down, but he refused. CDB says LPM then loaded the gun and was about to point it at the UO. The UO then shot at him several times.
12) CDB said this officer investigates blight complaints and abandoned vehicles when time permits." At that time, LPM came out of the house brandishing a long gun. “LPM ordered the officer away from the area. Additional officers were requested to respond. The suspect refused orders to drop his weapon. Preliminary reports indicate LPM stopped, chambered a round and was bringing the weapon to bear on the UO. All of this transpired in a very short timeframe before backup arrived. The UO engaged LPM with his handgun and fired multiple rounds."
13) According to CDB, a UO was doing CE when LPM came out of a house with a long gun. The older man told the officer to go away. The UO called for backup and gave orders to LPM to drop the weapon. Instead, LPM "stopped, chambered a round and was bringing the weapon to bear on the UO, CDB wrote. He said the officer then fired multiple rounds.
There are themes, the most consistent is the firings of multiple rounds of bullets into Lee Milks without him getting a shot out. Twelve mention that the officer was doing or involved with code enforcement operations, and that Milks was either loading or chambering a round in his rifle. The conflicts are several.
IPR (#4) gives a detailed narrative that has the officer contacting Milks first, the others seem to indicate Milks came out and met the officer for the first time with a gun in his hand. Milks is said to have told the officer to go away in ten of those accounts, that important bit is left out in three. What was Milks' guns final status? Aimed at officer (5), bringing it up to bear(4), swinging it at officer(1), or unstated(3). No account ever detailed when the officer brought his service pistol to bear.
Most differences between accounts over substantive issues may be subtle, but some are substantive. Chief Bachman is the general source for the information coming out over what transpired, yet as he wasn't even at the scene, his information is second hand hearsay and likely provided by an officer looking to save his own bacon, thinking himself the only surviving witness to the events. The police's reluctance to release any records, even the use-of-force report, concerning this incident becomes extra troubling to the discerning citizen.
With those thirteen accounts, let's compare them with the final result of the investigation given three months later. UpNorthlive broadcast most of the press conference, here's what was said:
"Mr. Milks responded that Officer Vansickle could inspect the bus, however, he was going to get a gun... (voiceover) police said milks came out of the house waving a gun appearing to be an AK-47 at the officer... Officer Vansickle observed Mr. Milks chamber a round into the rifle. Mr. Milks stated "I have silver bullets that are going to go through your vest."... (voiceover) Milks ordered the officer away from his property... At this moment Officer Vansickle was standing in front of Mr. Milks and was approximately 5 yards away. Mr. Milks gritted his teeth, positioned the rifle in the low ready, in a shooting stance, and raised the rifle against the officer. Officer Vansickle had no cover."
It still leaves me rather puzzled as to why the tempered glass in the front door was shattered mostly on the outside, why Officer Vansickle would not leave the property or otherwise stand down in a non-official code enforcement inspection, why the variances in the original stories and the final story, and why we never hear what the officer was doing during the whole time, other than not leaving MIlks' private property when asked, and somehow shooting somebody who had a rifle already pointed at him without that man reflexively shooting too.
It would be interesting to see the pictures of where Milks dropped dead. Was he dragged to that location? Was he inside the confines of his house standing just inside the storm door when he so called brandished the rifle? Did the officer shoot him and Milks fell through the door knocking the glass outward? Is there bullet holes inside of the doorway of Milks house? The glass is the big question, when did the glass fall, did the police open the door after the shooting and the remaining glass fell ? Storm doors have safety glass, so does the glass shatter from a bullet and stay in place ? only to fall after a door flex from opening?
Good coverage of this situation X. First of all, if there existed a code violation the officer should have sent out a notice of violation before engaging Mr. Milks. Any anger issues could have been avoided by giving Milks time to abosrb the fact that he may have been in violation of City codes. Secondly, the officer should have left the property immediately after he was asked to leave. This alone would have diffused the situation. But the officer wanted to show he had the authority to control the situation.
If the officer is to be believed, Milks made a deadly decision to bring a weapon outside his home to engage a police officer. Chambering a round was his final and fatal mistake. It's possible Milks was suffering onset Alzheimer or some other form of mental problems. If this incident transpired as the officer stated then he may have had no choice but to fire his weapon, thinking he was about to get shot. As I see it the officer escalated the situation by refusing to leave. The police could have dealt with Milks later when things had cooled down.
From what I read the officer fired several shots. Where did those rounds end up. Anytime an officer discharges a weapon they have to be aware of their surroundings so that innocent people are not hit by stray bullets. If this is the training he followed, according to the Cheif, then in my opinion there should be some policy changes and retraining involved.
Found this tidbit.
Building Inspection Services
Effective March 31, 2015 the City of Manistee transferred building inspection services to the State of Michigan.
Code Enforcement (Blight)
Manistee – The City of Manistee Building Inspector is responsible for Code Enforcement (Blight). The City of Manistee does not provide Code Enforcement to other communities. (Note that this was from 2013)
Seeing that Manistee no longer has a Building Inspector, that they farmed out this responsibility to the State of Michigan why in the name of hell was Officer Doug Van Sickle on his property? Shouldn't this also have been farmed out to the State?
Oh that is right he is the designated blight officer. Interesting. Operating with no court order. He was told to leave the property. He didn't. Things escalated.
On another note while poking along the internet Milks address was 486 2nd Street according to the whitepages.
This house was recently sold. The relators listing is still up in case anyone needs a visual perspective of the incident.
There is no alley at this address. As far as I can tell from the realtors photos and Google satellite maps a bus would be difficult to see from the road.
Time Magazine had a short piece with a good photo of the Milk's weapon.
It would be nice if there were photos of the other side of the weapon to see the position of the safety. You cannot chamber a round if the safety is on in this weapon. On the other hand why would someone chamber a round to load the gun and then put the safety on if he intended to use it?
There should be a series of crime scene photos and forensic evidence. Why is Manistee stonewalling their release?
One other point. When tempered glass shatters gravity will pull most of the fractured pieces straight down where they will hit the bottom sill and scatter more or less evenly in front and behind the sill. Plate glass will move back away from the impact. Again without a photo it is difficult to determine how much glass fell to the inside.
Good info. shinblind. The police should never be involved with enforcing housing and zoning codes. The last thing a citizen needs to see is an armed officer snooping around sonemone's property when no crime has been committed. Since housing and zoning codes are different from town to town the State will not get involved. The trade codes such as electrical, plumbing, etc are standardized throughout the State. As for not seeing the bus from the street, it is my opinion that a neighbor must have made a complaint. I agree, there should be more information on why the front door glass was shattered. The City of Manistee needs to tell the whole story and not keep hiding facts from the public.
Going thru the links posted by X, I found a photo of the bus which can be seen from the street.
Curiously absent from the news conference held on June 30 was anything forensically dealing with this case. From the clips available, the prosecutor and new Manistee public safety chief told what appears to be the story of the only survivor of the encounter without telling where everybody was positioned, the ballistics and collateral damage done by the bullets, and anything inside the MSP investigation that differed from the hearsay in the initial reports.
It's instructive seeing that the only one of the original initial reports that said anything about the two talking prior to Milks getting his gun was IPR, and that this was part of the official story. The official story should make anybody wonder why Officer Vansickle didn't attempt to de-escalate the situation, as previous code enforcement officers had done, and leave the property.
Particularly when he wasn't specifically instructed to go to that place. From the code enforcement records I received, there was no complaints registered and noted in 2017, and the complaint concerning the bus had been ongoing for years; if you recall a different MPS officer was ordered to get off Milks property the previous summer and complied. Absent a warrant, Officer Vansickle should have obeyed the homeowner that helped pay his salary. Many modern officers are not as solid in Constitutional rights issues as they need to be. It leads to situations like this, where people like Milks who know their basic rights get shot by those who don't abide by their duty to observe those rights.
I wonder why the officer who Milks ordered off of his property the previous year did not come back with a warrant?
If I remember correctly the bus was a 1973 that Milks had an attachment too because he lived in the bus for a period of time when he was in Alaska. If the year is correct that would put the vehicle in the antique category in Michigan. I could not find any requirement that an antique vehicle needs to be stored inside in Michigan. The requirements are that the vehicle has to be 26 years old, and must carry insurance. The plates are good for 10 years and cost $30. Was Milks aware of this? Did the bus actually have antique plates? Is this why no judge would issue a warrant? Could Milks have claimed that it was a pending issue? The fee for late registration is an additional$10.
Also did Milks carry storage only insurance on the bus? Would this be another reason why no warrant was issued?
Was Officer Vansickle aware of this? So many unanswered questions.