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St. Paul officers respond to shots fired, fatally shoot man with gun

A hearse and a BCA crime scene van park on the 900 block of St. Anthony Ave., St. Paul, following a police shooting, Sunday, Aug. 5, 2018. (Scott Takushi / Pioneer Press)

ST. PAUL — St. Paul police responding to a report of multiple shots fired encountered a man with a handgun and fatally shot him early Sunday, Aug. 5, according to the police department.

Officers arrived at a multi-unit rental property in the Summit-University area about 2:30 a.m. after receiving a 911 call from a male who described “multiple shots being fired on the second floor of the residence” in the 900 block of St. Anthony Avenue, said Sgt. Mike Ernster, a St. Paul police spokesman.

The two officers involved were wearing body cameras that were turned on.

Mayor Melvin Carter said Sunday he is working closely with the police chief and the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension “to ensure a thorough, transparent and timely investigation, including the release of the body cam footage as soon as possible.”

“Last night’s officer-involved shooting was a tragedy for our entire city,” Carter said in a statement after he stopped by the area earlier Sunday. “As we await further details, my heart goes out to the family of the deceased, to our St. Paul officers, and to every member of our community as we all grieve and process this loss.”

Police encountered man with gun

When officers arrived at the residence, they encountered a man with a gun, according to police.

“At some point, two officers discharged their service weapons, striking the man,” Ernster said.

Police did not provide details of what led officers to fire their guns.

“Right now we’re very early on in this investigation,” Ernster said. “The BCA will be conducting further interviews and they will be the agency to release information of what actually occurred.”

The BCA will have additional information after they conduct initial interviews with those involved and any witnesses, according to an agency spokeswoman, who said the time frame is unknown.

Police have cordoned off St. Anthony Avenue between Milton and Victoria streets as the investigation proceeds.

Officers’ body cameras were on

The officers’ body camera footage and other evidence is being turned over to the BCA because they are the agency conducting the investigation, Ernster said.

Carter didn’t announce a specific timeline in which he wants the footage released, but “he’s exploring the quickest route” and wants to do it “as soon as feasibly possible,” said Liz Xiong, Carter’s press secretary.

In Minneapolis, Mayor Jacob Frey  released body camera footage last Sunday, June 29, of the June 23 fatal officer-involved shooting of Thurman Blevins. The next day, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced  the officers would not be charged.

Blevins’ family and other community members had pushed for the prompt release of the footage, and Frey had pledged to do so as soon as possible. Video from past high-profile police shootings in the state has usually not been released until after long investigations by the BCA.

Man died at scene

Paramedics pronounced the man dead at the scene in St. Paul. His name has not been released.

Officers searched the area for anyone who may have been injured from the initial report of shots fired and didn’t find anyone, Ernster said.

There were multiple people inside the residence when officers arrived. Ernster said he didn’t have information about whether the 911 call originated from inside the home or elsewhere. The 911 caller hung up without providing additional information, police said.

Before Sunday, police had been called to the residence nine times since the start of the year.

“They tend to be run-of-the-mill calls,” Ernster said. “… “This investigation will reveal where this began, and right now, as far as the previous calls, we don’t know if they relate or not.”

Resident heard shots

A woman who lives on the first floor of the triplex with her two daughters said close to 2:30 a.m. Sunday she was awoken by a friend staying with her. He said the house was surrounded by police.

The woman said she heard a volley of gunfire and saw the flash of the shooting on the front porch, and she and her friend dropped to the ground.

“We hit the floor,” said the woman, who did not give her name and said she has lived in the apartment for about two weeks.

Shortly after, she heard officers pounding up the stairs to the apartments above and others banging on her front door.

Officers escorted the woman and her daughters to the street and later took them to the police station for statements.

The woman said she only knew of one woman and a man who lived in the upstairs units. The man was a nice person who had recently begun painting her apartment for the landlord, she said.

When police brought other people out of the house after the shooting, the woman said she only saw them bring the woman who lived upstairs and a man she hadn’t seen before.

Sunny Mercado, who lives next door the triplex, said that while he wasn’t home at the time of the shooting, he returned shortly after. From his place, he could see investigators examining two holes near a second-story window at the house next door. He said the holes appeared to come from inside the house since the wood splintered outward.

Mercado said that while his house had a dent in it, it appeared no bullets had made their way into his house.

Police chief: No winners in these situations

The officers involved will be placed on standard administrative leave.

“Officer-involved shootings are incredibly difficult — for our officers, our department, our community and the family of the person whose life was lost,” Police Chief Todd Axtell wrote in an email Sunday to members of the police department. “While I’m deeply grateful that no officers were injured during this encounter, I also extend my condolences to the family of the man who died. We all know there are no winners in these situations.”

Axtell wrote the department will not be releasing more information now “in the interest of protecting the integrity of the investigation” and that “facts will be released after the BCA has completed a thorough review.”

Early Sunday and into the afternoon, community members came to the area around the crime scene tape to talk to neighbors and try to figure out what happened.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota said in a tweet on Sunday, “Our communities cannot even begin to heal from one police killing before another occurs.”

Teresa Nelson, the organization’s legal director, called for details and body camera footage to be released.

“I think waiting for weeks and months before releasing body camera footage doesn’t help the community to understand what’s happening,” she said. “The community has a right to know when police take somebody’s life, they have a right to know how we’re being policed and what happened. … It’s important for transparency.”