WEST BEND — The Washington County District Attorney's Office has cleared the deputy who shot and killed the suspect in a violent crime spree in the Town of Kewaskum on Feb 3.
Law enforcement say Nicholas S. Pingel, 30 of West Bend, broke into an elderly couple's home and fatally shot a 72-year-old resident, and then entered a neighbor's home, stole a shotgun and fatally shot a 77-year-old resident.
When law enforcement arrived, a deputy opened fire on the suspect, hitting him, and law enforcement later found the suspect dead nearby.
The deputy, Lee Goodman, a 9-year veteran of the office, was placed on administrative leave as is protocol.
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The Washington County Sheriff's Office announced Wednesday that Goodman's actions were within the scope of the law, "by protecting himself and others when he used deadly force."
Washington County District Attorney Mark Bensen came to that conclusion after reviewing the independent police investigation conducted by the Wisconsin Department of Justice's Division of Criminal Investigations.
Deputy Goodman has now returned to regular service.
With the deputy cleared, Washington County Sheriff Martin R. Schulteis released new details into the crime spree that shocked the Washington County community that day.
Moments before the gun battle
Deputy Goodman was responding along Forest Road to the scene that afternoon. At a point, the deputy realized he was responding to a shots fired incident. Just before arriving, he noticed an armed person standing along the road a little over a half-mile north of the first crime scene. That person was armed with a shotgun, Sheriff Schulteis says.
As the deputy approached the person in his marked squad car, the suspect leveled the shotgun - later learned to be stolen from the second victim - and fired one round, the sheriff says. The round did not hit the deputy or the squad car.
The deputy backed his squad around a curve in the road "to establish a north perimeter, out of view of the suspect, in an attempt to deescalate the incident."
The deputy then got out of the car and positioned himself behind the vehicle with his rifle.
As more law enforcement arrived, the deputy commanded the suspect to drop the shotgun. "He once again decided to escalate the situation by shouldering the weapon and pointing it at the deputies," according to Sheriff Schulteis.
There was an exchange of gunfire from about 120 yards, and the suspect was hit with one round in the chest. The sheriff says the deputy fired first.
Deputies lost contact with the suspect and maintained a perimeter around the area. They eventually located him nearby with a drone. Life-saving measures were attempted, but the suspect, later identified as Nicholas Pingel, died from the gunshot wound.
Sheriff Schulteis concludes with this statement:
"Our office will conduct our own independent internal investigation and tactical debrief to determine what we could have improved on; we owe that to the community we serve. Having said that, all facts point to the unfortunate reality that the tragic outcome was dictated by the suspect rather than the law enforcement response. The deputy acted with courage and bravery. The actions he took were consistent with his training, and in accordance with the law, while facing extreme stress and danger. I welcome the deputy back to serve the citizens of Washington County."
Details about the suspect
On Feb. 9, the Washington County Sheriff's Office released new details from their own investigation. According to a statement, Pingel was the lone suspect in the crime spree leading up to the gun battle between Pingel and law enforcement.
The Sheriff's Office states that Pingel has a criminal record dating back to 2010 involving a number of minor investigations, civil forfeitures as well as misdemeanor and felony arrests. From 2014 to 2016, Pingel was arrested for several burglaries and was eventually sent to prison.
Pingel has spent most of the last four years behind bars, criminal records show. He was released from prison on Dec. 1, 2020, and was placed on extended supervision with the Wisconsin Department of Corrections.
The Sheriff's Office states interviews with family members and associates suggest Pingel struggled with substantial mental health issues and was disconnected from family members during the week before the incident. Pingel stopped taking his medication, which helped him cope with the mental illness, the Office believes.
Pingel was living at an acquaintance's apartment in West Bend starting on Jan. 29. He was asked to leave the apartment the next day due to erratic behavior. He may have been covertly staying overnight in the common basement area of that apartment during the nights leading up to the crime spree, the Sheriff's Office says.
Interviews also suggest that drug use could be a factor to his erratic behavior, according to the Office.