ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — The Winnebago County State’s Attorney’s Office has cleared Rockton Police Sergeant Ben Heintz of charges for firing his weapon at a shoplifting suspect at Walmart in November 2022.

According to State’s Attorney J. Hanley, around 7:40 p.m, on November 22nd, Rockton Police Sergeant Ben Heintz was flagged down by a person outside Walmart, at 4781 E. Rockton Road, who reported a shoplifting crime.

The officer located the suspect, Melody Gackstatter, who was loading a cart full of merchandise into an SUV occupied by Austin Levitski, authorities said.

Photo: Winnebago County Jail

Heintz recognized Levitski from surveillance footage of prior shoplifting thefts from the store, Hanley said.

Levitski testified that he pulled his squad car in to block Levitski’s car, and he saw Levitski’s hands reach beneath the dashboard, at which point he pulled his weapon and ordered the suspects to exit the car.

Levitski got into the driver’s seat and put the car in drive while the officer was in front of the vehicle.

Authorities said Heintz was able to sidestep being hit by the car, and as it was accelerating toward him, he drew his weapon and fired three rounds at the vehicle. Levitski was struck in the upper left arm.

Levitski later admitted he and Gackstatter had been using heroin and crack a few hours before the incident and said he “acknowledged that he made a poor choice and should have just put the car in park.”

The car continued fleeing the parking lot, heading east on Rockton Road and then south on IL 251, where the Winnebago County Sheriff’s deputies and Roscoe Police officers joined in the pursuit, which accelerated to over 100 mph, officials said.

The car eventually crashed into a garage near the 11000 block of Dorthea Avenue in Machesney Park. Levitski fled the scene on foot before officers were able to use Tasers to disable him and take him, and later Gackstatter, into custody.

Levitski was treated for his injury at a local hospital.

Heintz was put on leave while the incident was investigated by the Winnebago-Boone County Integrity Task Force.

The findings of the investigation were turned over to the Winnebago County State’s Attorney.

After reviewing the findings, Hanely said he found Heintz was legally justified in using deadly force, as he believed he was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm.

No criminal charges will be filed in the case.