RACINE — In the 20 years that Heidi Fritz tended bar at Teezers Bar and Grill, 1936 Lathrop Ave., she said she had never been robbed. That was until June 17, 2019.
Fritz recounted her memories of that evening during the trial of Dalquavis Ward, who is accused of conducting the robbery and in the process, shooting and killing Racine Police Officer John Hetland. Ward faces charges of intentional first-degree homicide with a deadly weapon, armed robbery and possession of a firearm by a felon.
Tuesday, the first day of Ward’s trial, included opening arguments from the state and the defense as well as testimony from one of Ward’s family members and from a Racine Police investigator who was close to Hetland.
Opening arguments and first witness
One of the challenges facing the prosecutors in this case is that the armed robber who shot Hetland was wearing a mask over his face, a hood covering his hair and dark clothes. Witnesses saw that he was Black because his forehead and hands were uncovered but as the defense argued, whether he was dark-skinned or light-skinned and also details about his height and build varied among witnesses.
Kenosha County District Attorney Michael Graveley, who is prosecuting the case so that Racine County prosecutors avoid a conflict of interest, stated in his opening remarks that the reason suspicion turned to Ward was because of DNA evidence.
Because Teezers had high-quality video surveillance, officials from the state crime lab were able to see which surfaces the suspect touched and gather DNA. The DNA was run through a database and was matched with Ward’s, which was added to the system after he was convicted of ammunition of possession of a weapon. Ward had been released from prison four days before the incident at Teezers and had ties to the Racine area.
The first witness to testify was Ward’s aunt, Artesia Ward, who stated her nephew had visited her house the weekend before June 17. Because he had just got out of prison, he didn’t have permanent housing, so he would go to Artesia’s home to shower and eat. Artesia testified that Ward stayed there that weekend and then left Monday afternoon.
Defense attorney Charles Glynn asked Artesia what Ward brought to her house, to which she answered he had a small bag with toiletries such as shampoo and deodorant. Glynn asked what he was wearing and if he had any other clothes and she said the whole time he was there he wore red shoes, a red shirt and red hoodie, attempting to cast doubt on whether Ward could have obtained the outfit the suspect wore and a gun in time for the robbery.
Police searched the residence where Ward was staying when he was arrested but none of the items the shooter used were found, though Graveley pointed out that it was 10 days after the shooting. Ward was also swabbed for an updated DNA sample, which Graveley said matched with the DNA found on the scene.
Connected to Ward and Hetland
Racine Investigator Steven Diener starting working at the Racine Police Department the same year that Hetland did. On the witness stand he said that he and Hetland were close; they had been in each other’s weddings and he was the godfather of Hetland’s daughter.
Diener has also known Ward for a considerable amount of time. He investigated an armed robbery that Ward was convicted of in 2008 when he was a juvenile. Years later, one of Diener’s colleagues, Investigator Chad Stillman, told Ward that he’d been investigating some robberies committed between 2012 and 2014 which Stillman believed were perpetrated by Ward.
Diener said he reviewed all the known robberies Ward had committed and had seen some patterns. Ward typically would dress in dark clothing, wear at least one glove and a hood over his head and would at least partially cover his face. He would hold the gun in his right hand and have clerks hand him the money to his left. He would then leave on foot.
The defense pointed out that the robber at Teezers was not wearing gloves. Glynne also pointed out that a “sophisticated and professional,” according to Diener, robber would have conducted the robbery someplace where he would have had an easy time escaping, somewhere closer to where he lived as opposed to somewhere close to an aunt’s house.
Another unique thing about Ward, according to Diener, was that he did not seem to be deterred by whether customers or other bystanders were in the location that he planned to rob, which Diener said is uncommon — most robbers prefer to wait until all the customers leave.
The night in question
Teezers was pretty busy on Monday, June 17, 2019, because it was the first night of a pool league. Owner Dino Paros was there to collect fees for the league when he recognized Hetland at the bar and offered to buy him a shot. Fritz recalled that Hetland asked her what was good to eat and she recommended the tacos. She didn’t remember what he ordered but that Hetland and Paros were chatting for a bit at the bar.
Fritz went down to one of the computer screens to separate some tabs when she noticed that someone else was behind the bar.
“I just remember looking up and someone was there with a gun pointed at me,” Fritz said. When asked how he asked for the money Fritz said, “Just quiet. He wasn’t loud like, ‘Give me the (expletive) money’”
She opened the register and gave him the cash and then he asked for the money bag. As she moved toward the money bag she said she, “heard a commotion to the left of me.”
“I didn’t see who came over the bar but I knew someone did,” she said. “I heard a commotion and saw somebody had come over the board.”
In a panic, she ran to other side of the bar and as the pair were scuffling, she jumped over the bar and ran outside.
“I heard a gunshot,” she said. “From behind the bar.”
She hid behind a garbage can and peeked in the window to see what was happening. She couldn’t see anything.
First investigator on scene
Racine Police Officer Richard Stettner, one of the first officers who responded to the scene, became emotional when recounting the events of that night.
When Stettner entered Teezers, he saw Hetland lying on his back behind the bar and immediately recognized him as a coworker.
While on the stand Tuesday afternoon, Stettner paused to maintain his composure before saying he observed a bullet hole in Hetland’s chest. A firefighter was attempting to perform life-saving measures on Hetland when Stettner arrived.
Once the firefighter told him that Hetland had died, Stettner called multiple area law enforcement agencies for assistance as he knew another agency would have to take over the investigation since an officer had died.
The trial is set to continue on Wednesday. Check JournalTimes.com for ongoing coverage.
This article has been changed to accurately reflect the charges for which Dalquavis Ward was sentenced and served time.