DECATUR — Detectives said Monday that the Decatur man shot to death early Sunday was a domestic violence suspect who was killed by an off-duty Illinois State Conservation Police officer after the suspect had smashed his way into the officer’s home in pursuit of a woman who had fled there.
Matthew A. Hollgarth, 21, was pronounced dead at the officer’s house in the 1300 block of Manor Drive from a single bullet wound to the torso after the officer fired once.
At a news conference Monday, Decatur police refused to name the officer but said they had concluded he acted properly in using deadly force when confronted by Hollgarth, who was described as aggressive and refusing multiple commands to back away.
Criminal Investigations Lt. Cody Moore said the officer had feared for the safety of himself, the battered woman who had pounded on his door around 12:20 a.m. pleading for help, and for two of his own small children who were present in the home.
Hollgarth had followed the woman to the front door and allegedly would not back down even when confronted by the officer who had armed himself. Hollgarth had then smashed down the front door and come in after the woman who said she had earlier been choked and beaten and had fled from a car.
The officer was on the phone with Decatur police the whole time and could be heard giving the suspect, who had pulled off his shirt and hat as a display of aggression, multiple commands to leave and warning him he would be shot if he didn’t back off, Moore said.
When the officer told Hollgarth there were children present, the “suspect indicated he did not care,” Moore said.
The officer had retreated through the length of the house as he shielded the woman and his own children and the suspect had continued to act aggressively and kept approaching until he was “within mere feet” of the officer when he was fatally shot.
Hollgarth was not armed but Moore said there was no doubt in the minds of investigators, or Macon County State’s Attorney Jay Scott, that the officer had acted properly. Moore said Scott had reviewed all the facts and concluded no charges will be filed against the officer.
“The audio (911 tape) is chilling to say the least,” Moore said. “And it captures the multiple demands for Hollgarth to leave the residence and back away … The law allows for the use of deadly force in those situations whereby a person is in fear of great bodily harm or the death of themselves or that of another person.
“In these same circumstances any homeowner would have been justified in the use of deadly force.”
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Decatur Police Chief Todd Walker said officers are trained to deal with many situations but believed it was hard for anyone to be prepared for the scenario the Illinois State Conservation police officer found himself in.
“No training in the world can prepare you for somebody breaking into your home at 12 a.m. with two small kids inside a week before Christmas, and then that person acting in such an aggressive manner that led to this incident,” Walker said.
Neighbor Claire Jones lives close to the home where the shooting happened and had heard the commotion and the gunshot. Now knowing all that took place, she says it’s hard to believe the officer involved could have done anything different.
“My husband and I think he did the right thing,” Jones said. “I assume she (the woman who banged on the officer’s door) ran to that house because his car does look like a police vehicle.”
She says the incident has shocked her but she doesn’t feel scared for her normally quiet neighborhood because this was something that could have happened to anyone, anywhere. But coming on the heels of the mass shooting tragedy in Connecticut, she says the dramatic finish to the weekend has been overwhelming.
“I am like ‘My gosh, what is the world coming to?’” she said.
Chris McCloud, a spokesman for the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, said the state conservation police would conduct its own internal inquiry into what happened but regarded Decatur police as the lead investigating agency. The officer has been placed on paid leave which is “just a matter of procedure while the investigation is pending,” McCloud said.
Decatur police also emphasized Monday that, despite rumors, there was no prior connection between the officer and the woman who was assaulted, or the officer and Hollgarth.
“The residence where this shooting death occurred was simply the location where the female victim ran to after she exited the vehicle that she was being abused in,” Moore said.