Milwaukee, WI – The gunman accused of murdering Racine Police Officer John Hetland during an armed robbery at a tavern on June 17 was arrested on Thursday using the slain officer’s handcuffs.
Dalquavis Ward, 26, was apprehended in Milwaukee just one day after Officer Hetland’s funeral service, WDJT reported.
He was wearing the slain officer’s handcuffs as he was led to the Kenosha County Jail, where he was charged with armed robbery, possession of a firearm by a felon, and first-degree homicide.
Ward had been released from federal prison just four days before the shooting, WTMJ reported.
“We are pleased to announce we have actually caught that killer this evening,” Racine County Sheriff Christopher Schmaling confirmed during a press conference on Thursday. “This coward is in our custody.”
Customers and employees at Teezers Bar & Grill – the tavern where Officer Hetland was killed – sat silently as the press conference played on the television screen, The Journal Times reported.
“When they said they used Johnny Hetland’s handcuffs to bring him into custody, the crowd just screamed,” said Karla Seidenspinner, who has worked at Teezers for nearly 20 years.
Seidenspinner said that the 49-year-old off-duty officer had only been at the tavern for about 10 minutes when Ward burst in with a bandanna tied around his face.
In an attempt to stop the burglary-in-progress, Officer Hetland leaped over the bar and tackled ward to the ground, she said.
In the process, Ward fatally shot the veteran officer in the chest, then took off with cash from the business, WDJT reported.
Investigators managed to identify Ward using DNA evidence taken from a doorknob at the tavern and from Officer Hetland’s clothing, according to The Journal Sentinel.
They ultimately tracked him to an address in Milwaukee, WDJT reported.
Over 17 law enforcement agencies spent “thousands” of hours working on the investigation into Officer Hetland’s murder thus far, Kenosha County Sheriff David Beth said during the press conference.
“This is not done,” Sheriff Beth said. “The investigation is intensifying right now. We have a person in custody but the evidence that we need to put that finishing nails in his coffin – that’s what we still have to do.”
Ward’s criminal history began at the age of 15, when he was convicted of armed robbery, WTMJ reported.
In 2014, he was charged federally in connection with the armed robbery of a Racine liquor store, but wasn’t sentenced for that offense until 2016.
While the federal charge was pending in 2015, Ward attacked and strangled his girlfriend during a domestic altercation, WTMJ reported.
Although he was prohibited from possessing firearms due to his juvenile armed robbery conviction, investigators found “a large, bolt action rifle with a live round in the chamber and a short magazine with three additional rounds” hidden in the basement of his home.
Ward’s girlfriend told police where the gun was located.
He was convicted of strangulation, possession of a firearm by a felon, and disorderly conduct, and was sentenced to 18 months in prison followed by 18 months on probation, WITI reported.
Ward was later sentenced to five years in federal prison for the federal armed robbery offense, The Journal Times reported.
After completing his prison term on June 13, Ward was released from custody and began serving a three-year federal probation sentence.
During the press conference on Thursday, Racine Police Chief Arthel Howell said he is pleased to know that Officer Hetland’s accused killer is in custody.
“But I’m not happy,” he said. “Because it should’ve never happened.”
Although Officer Hetland was off-duty when the fatal altercation occurred, the circumstances of his murder are considered to be a “line of duty death,” the Racine Police Department (RPD) said, according to WGN.
The veteran officer “took immediate action to stop this felony in progress in order to protect life and property,” Chief Howell said in a news release at the time, according to the Journal Sentinel.
Officer Hetland served in a wide variety of positions during his 24-year career with the RPD, Chief Howell told the paper.
The trusted, highly-respected officer spent time working as a field training officer, and also served on the Greater Racine Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Task Force.
Officer Hetland leaves behind two children, as well as his parents, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.
He was laid to rest on Wednesday.
Ward appeared before U.S. Magistrate Judge William Duffin for a probation violation hearing on Friday, the Journal Sentinel reported.
He is scheduled to appear for a probation revocation hearing on July 25.
Ward’s initial appearance in Kenosha County court is scheduled for Monday, WITI reported.