A La Crosse police investigator was justified in using deadly force against a suspected drug dealer who hit the officer with his car last month while trying to avoid arrest for selling methamphetamine, a prosecutor announced Friday.

Investigator James Mancuso acted in self-defense and will not be prosecuted, La Crosse County District Attorney Tim Gruenke ruled after reviewing an investigation conducted by the county sheriff’s department.

Brandon Ritter, 24, sped toward Mancuso in the parking lot of Festival Foods in Holmen late Dec. 22 after selling $380 worth of meth to a police informant, according to the complaint filed in La Crosse County Circuit Court.

Mancuso jumped to avoid bring struck and fired four shots into Ritter’s windshield before he was thrown onto the hood and fell from the moving vehicle, according to the investigation findings.

“(Mancuso) recognized that Brandon Ritter was in a position to run him over and had a weapon, the intent and a delivery system to cause injury to his person,” according to Gruenke’s ruling. “Mancuso was reasonable in his belief that he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.”

Investigators arrested Ritter when he drove into a nearby snowbank, where police found a bag with 36 grams of meth.

Mancuso, a 10-year member of the agency, and Ritter were treated for minor injuries. The officer is currently on an administrative assignment.

Police found a digital scale and ammunition in Ritter’s car.

Prosecutors charged Ritter, a felon who was on extended supervision at the time of the offense, with first-degree recklessly endangering safety, battery to a police officer, two counts of delivery of meth, possession with intent to deliver meth and possession of a controlled substance. He remains jailed on a $25,000 cash bond and a probation hold.

The La Crosse Police Department also is conducting an internal investigation and will convene its Use of Force Review Team, required when an officer uses deadly or less lethal force. The panel will determine whether Mancuso followed policy and state law before the chief reviews the findings to determine whether the force used was appropriate, according to department policy.

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Anne Jungen covers law enforcement and the criminal justice system in La Crosse County. She joined the Tribune reporting staff in December 2005. You can contact her directly at ajungen@lacrossetribune.com or 608-791-8224.

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