Prosecutors decline charges against Rochester officer who fatally shot ax-wielding man

A Rochester police officer who fatally shot an ax-wielding man during a traffic stop in July has been cleared of any potential charges.

Friday, Hubbard Broadcasting affiliate KAAL-TV reported that the Mower County Attorney’s Office — which reviewed the investigation at the request of the Olmsted County Attorney’s Office to avoid potential conflicts of interest — announced it found no evidence to support criminal charges against office Michael Bottcher, Jr.

Bottcher fatally shot 27-year-old Joshua Clayton Hippler during a traffic stop in the early-morning hours of July 30.

According to Rochester police, Domino’s Pizza on Broadway Avenue reported an ax-wielding man robbed the store at around 11 p.m. on July 29, then fled in a white van. Officers then found the van with matching plates from the robbery at around 12:45 a.m. on July 30. The department added that Bottcher didn’t want to stop the van until other officers were there to help but the van then merged from Highway 63 onto Highway 52, made an illegal U-turn and then drove the wrong way on the Highway 52 southbound ramp.

The department released video from Bottcher’s body camera and squad dash camera of what happened after the van pulled over, including the shooting. Warning: The video includes images and audio that some may find disturbing.

The video shows Hippler get out of the van while holding an ax, then walk toward Bottcher, who is heard yelling for Hippler to stay in the van and drop the ax. Hippler is heard telling Bottcher multiple times to kill him, then starts zig-zagging toward Bottcher and saying, “I didn’t do nothing.” Bottcher then fires one shot at Hippler, knocking him to the ground, but Hippler gets back up and is heard apparently repeating, “Finish it,” as Bottcher fires six more shots at Hippler, who then falls to the ground.

Other officers arrived at the scene less than a minute later and the Mower County Attorney’s Office says officers rendered aid to Hippler, who died from multiple gunshot wounds to his torso.

“In this case the facts show that Officer Bottcher clearly acted reasonably when using deadly force. He reasonably believed it was necessary to protect his life and the lives of others arriving in the area,” Mower County Attorney Kristen M. Nelsen said in a statement.

Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin added, “In these incredibly unfortunate situations that force officers to make split-second decisions, the officer did what he had to do and what he was trained to do for his own personal safety and the safety of the public. These situations are very stressful and taxing on the officer, the agency and the community. Our deepest condolences go out to the family of Mr. Hippler.”

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigated the shooting before turning the files over to the attorney’s office for charging review.