TACOMA – The Pierce County Prosecutor has cleared two Tacoma police officers in the 2022 shooting death of a knife-wielding man near the Tacoma Mall.
Officers Erika Haberzettl, 48, and Jared Levitt, 32, shot Michael Mercado, 37, of Ruston on March 16 on a street entrance to the mall complex near South Pine and South 45th streets.
Neither officer was injured.
Prosecutor Mary Robnett said, “the use of deadly force by the two officers was justified and lawful,” in a report sent Wednesday to Tacoma Police Chief Avery Moore.
According to the 15-page report, Haberzettl, a 20-year veteran, had just left the mall in her cruiser when two people in a passing car flagged her down.
As the witnesses were telling the officer their vehicle had just been hit by another car, a Saab appeared, being driven recklessly, and moving toward the scene, the report said.
The driver, Mercado, got out of the car but left it in drive on the sloping street. He then advanced toward Haberzettl and the witnesses, who identified him as the driver who had struck them.
“Haberzettl saw that he was holding what appeared to her to be a dark colored handgun as he advanced on her,” the report states. “… the object that Mr. Mercado was holding was later determined to be a fixed blade knife, still in its black plastic sheath, that was shaped like a gun. Mr. Mercado was holding the knife in the same manner that someone would hold a handgun.”
Haberzettl shouted at Mercado to “drop it” but the man kept advancing, according to the report. The officer then fired two rounds at Mercado. She was struck by the open door of Mercado’s vehicle as it rolled past her.
Both Haberzettl and Mercado were temporarily blocked from each other by her cruiser. She told him to “put the gun down.” When he refused, she fired two more rounds, striking him. He fell to the ground.
Haberzettl requested medical aid for Mercado.
Because Mercado was still moving and reaching for the weapon, Haberzettl took cover behind the witnesses’ car.
About that time Levitt arrived on the scene.
“She also said to (officer) Levitt as he got out of his patrol car, ‘He’s got something black in his hand, looks like a firearm’,” according to the report.
Levitt commanded Mercado to drop his weapon and then fired two rounds at Mercado. Levitt then repeated the command and fired four more rounds.
Haberzettl, fearing that Mercado was going to shoot Levitt, fired another round.
Mercado was pronounced dead at the scene. An autopsy determined that he had been shot five times and died from his wounds. Toxicology testing showed he had amphetamine, methamphetamine and THC in his system.
The entire shooting was recorded on Haberzettl’s body camera and by a civilian witness who also recorded the incident.
Cell phone video shot by the witnesses who had their vehicle struck by Mercado showed erratic driving and near misses of other cars and a pedestrian, prior to the shooting.
The Pierce County Force Investigation Team interviewed five civilians who all stated they believed Mercado had a gun.