Wisconsin police kill 14-year-old Indigenous boy; investigation ongoing
Mourners gathered at a candlelight vigil to remember 14-year-old Jason Pero, who was shot and killed by an Ashland County sheriff's deputy outside his home on the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa reservation. | WDIO-DT via AP

Following on the heels of the Justice Department’s decision not to prosecute a police officer for the shooting of young Navajo mother Loreal Tsingine in Arizona, an Indigenous eighth grader, Jason Pero, was killed by a white policeman in Wisconsin on November 8.

Pero was a member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and was killed on his own reservation. He was shot outside his grandparents’ home by Ashland County Deputy Brock Mrdjenovich, who alleged the boy lunged at him with a butcher knife. The family and others are skeptical of the claim.

The tribal council is demanding a federal investigation because the state Department of Justice issued a press release, just three days after the shooting, that seemed to place Pero’s death on the child himself. The press release described Jason as lunging at the deputy with a knife. Mrdjenovich was responding to a 911 call police received reporting a person with a knife was spotted on the street. It has since been confirmed that Pero himself made that call.

The tribal council has stated it “does not agree with this recent press release, nor the excessive use of force on a minor child.”

Pero’s mother, Holly Gauthier, said that Jason’s murder is representative of “an epidemic in our country and against all Native Americans.” She added “There is no reason a police officer should ever shoot a child….”

This case is unique due to his young age, as he had just turned 14 two months ago, and the police slaying occurred on a reservation; it took place in Indian Country.

Moreover, there is no independent corroboration of Jason “lunging” at the officer or any kind of altercation. Pero’s family initially questioned whether he had a knife at the time of his encounter with Mrdjenovich, though reports suggest there was a “dull butcher knife” missing from his grandparents’ home and authorities claim to have recovered a knife from the scene.

State authorities have announced plans to send results of its inquiry to the Ashland County Prosecutor for possible action. But tribal leaders fearing Mrdjenovich will be absolved of any wrongdoing, are requesting the U.S. Department of Justice to open a criminal civil rights and civil police misconduct investigation of the killing.


Albert Bender
Albert Bender

Albert Bender is a Cherokee activist, historian, political columnist, and freelance reporter for Native and Non-Native publications. He is currently writing a legal treatise on Native American sovereignty and working on a book on the war crimes committed by the U.S. against the Maya people in the Guatemalan civil war He is a consulting attorney on Indigenous sovereignty, land restoration, and Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) issues and a former staff attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Oklahoma (LSEO) in Muskogee, Okla.