Family of Kasota man killed by deputy to take legal action

Marc Chadderdon
Nicollet County Sheriff's Deputy Marc Chadderdon walks among, and photographs, pieces of evidence at the scene of Tyler HeilmanOs death.
courtesy John Cross / The Free Press

The father of a Kasota man killed on Monday says the family is planning to take legal action against a sheriff's deputy who fired the fatal shots.

Tyler Heilman's father, Mark, said his 24-year old son was shot at least three times, although he was unarmed.

Authorities said Le Sueur County Sheriff's deputy Todd Waldron was working another case and driving an unmarked sport utility vehicle on Monday when he saw Heilman driving a car erratically, and at times speeding, so he followed him. At one point, Heilman drove his car off the road and up an embankment.

Mark Heilman said witnesses told him the two struggled briefly in a parking lot.

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"I think that at that time, he sees the badge on his belt -- he could have mistaken that for a belt buckle. He steps back and says, okay, I'm done. Standing there in just a swimming suit. The cop just gets up, turns, grabs his gun, doesn't say get on the ground or anything. Doesn't give Tyler a frickin' two-second chance, pulls his gun and starts firing," Mark Heilman said.

Investigators with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension believe Waldron fired four shots. Bureau spokesman Andy Skoogman said Waldron was not in uniform, but he had a sheriff's badge on his belt. Waldron was not working undercover, and Skoogman said authorities are investigating whether the deputy identified himself.

Jeremy Cummins and Abby Bauleke
Jeremy Cummins, a friend of Tyler Heilman, comforts Abby Bauleke, Heilman's girlfriend.
courtesy John Cross / The Free Press

Mark Heilman lives about seven blocks away, and arrived to find medical personnel working on his son. He said the deputy shouldn't have used his gun.

"The guy's got to be dealt with as, I hate to say a crazed murderer, but he blew it. He flipped," Mark Heilman said.

Witnesses give a similar account. Kris Hoehn, who was in the car with Heilman and other friends, said the group was on its way back from a day of swimming at the Minnesota River when they noticed an SUV following them. Hoehn acknowledged the vehicle may have swerved some, and he said Heilman drove up a sledding hill at one point.

Hoehn said the group didn't know Waldron was a deputy. When they arrived at the apartment complex, Waldron asked Heilman for a driver's license, and then the two started arguing, Hoehn said. He said Heilman and the deputy ended up wrestling on the ground.

Heilman ended up on top of Waldron, but got up and "that's when he seen the badge - as he's getting up," Hoehn said. "Then came the gunshots, just as my buddy's hands were going up.

"It was too late. ... We had no idea who he was. If we would have known he was a cop, none of this would've happened," said Hoehn, 24.

Hoehn said Heilman was gasping for breath and said, "I'm done, man. I'm done." He staggered a few feet and fell, face down, on the grass.

It wasn't clear if alcohol played a role in the argument. Tyler Heilman was treated for alcohol abuse while in high school, but his father said he had kicked the problem, though he still drank a little bit. Hoehn said the group of friends had been drinking "a little" on Monday, but not enough to affect Heilman's driving. Authorities are conducting an autopsy, which will include toxicology tests.

Andy Skoogman
Andy Skoogman (right) of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension answers media questions outside of the Le Sueur County Sheriff's Office July 21, 2009, about the fatal shooting of Tyler Heilman by Le Sueur Sheriff's Office investigator Todd Waldron, July 20, 2009 in Kasota, Minn. At left is BCA investigator Michael Anderson.
courtesy John Cross / The Free Press

Skoogman said Waldron suffered non-life-threatening injuries, but did not elaborate. The incident - from the time Waldron started following Heilman to the shooting - lasted less than 20 minutes, he said. There was no weapon found on Heilman or in his car, Skoogman said.

Waldron, who has been a deputy with the department for 10 years, has been placed on standard paid administrative leave, and the investigation could take six to eight weeks, Skoogman said. The BCA said Waldron has never been disciplined.

Skoogman said a full complement of investigators is on the case.

"The BCA has a total of 7 people working on this case; those are investigators and scientists," Skoogman said. "Shortly after the incident on Monday, they began processing the scene and collecting evidence. our investigators have been talking to witnesses. I know they spoke to people both Monday night and well into Tuesday as well."

Waldron's resume indicates he also worked as a jailer with the department. He was promoted to investigator in 2004 and focuses on narcotics, sexual assaults and robberies, Skoogman said.

Waldron also served as a patrol officer with three small-town police departments and has a degree in law enforcement from Minnesota State University, Mankato. He's taken several continuing education training courses, including training in use of deadly force, according to his personnel records.

A working phone number for Waldron could not be found and his parents, whose house he visited on Tuesday, declined comment.

Heilman acknowledged his son had gotten into past trouble for stealing and getting into fights, but said he had no serious problems in the last five years. Court records show Tyler Heilman has more than a dozen convictions in recent years, mostly from 2004-2006, and mostly for traffic and alcohol violations. He pleaded guilty to burglary in 2004 and also has a petty misdemeanor drug conviction and a misdemeanor assault conviction. His most recent conviction was in 2008 for driving with a suspended license.

Investigators are asking the public to withhold judgment until all the facts are in.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)