A Madera man shot and killed by police Thursday night was a U.S. Navy veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who left an officer no option when he advanced with a knife, Chief Dino Lawson said Friday afternoon.
He was identified as Michael Robert Novak, 59.
“It’s very sad, on so many levels,” Lawson said.
The incident took place about 10:15 p.m. on the Cleveland Avenue exit from northbound Highway 99. A police spokesman described the chain of events: The driver of another vehicle was involved in a possible DUI collision with Novak . When a police officer arrived and tried to contact Novak, he refused to get out of his car. Then, Novak pulled out a large knife, became aggressive and refused orders to drop the weapon before getting out and charging the officer. The officer retreated, again commanded Novak to drop the knife and fired several rounds when Novak continued to advance. Novak died from gunshot wounds at the scene.
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Lawson said he has reviewed video from body cameras worn by officers that shows the officer who fired walking backward and telling Novak to drop the knife. The chief said the officer was backed up to his patrol vehicle and Novak was just feet away, still armed with the knife and advancing, when the officer fired.
Lawson said the video footage has been turned over to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office and the Madera County District Attorney’s Office, who are investigating the shooting.
Asked if he viewed the shooting as a possible case of suicide by cop, Lawson replied:
“Absolutely, in my opinion.”
Lawson said Novak was known to police, not because he had committed criminal offenses, but because he was experiencing PTSD symptoms, such as reporting persons in his yard; officers who were dispatched to the home found no intruders.
The chief said Novak refused to get treatment from the Veterans Administration hospital. Neighbors and friends urged Novak to get help, to no avail.