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Minnesota sheriff’s deputy goes on trial this week in medic’s death

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STILLWATER, Minn. — Before he was fatally shot by a Washington County sheriff’s deputy in 2018, Benjamin Evans scrawled out a note apologizing to the medics he knew would come to his aid.

An emergency medical technician himself, Evans understood the emotions they would feel. “I’m sorry that this is another memory in your career, of another lost soul, but your job is not to save them all, just the ones you can,” he wrote. “Carry on, you have the watch from here, my friends.”

Jurors will hear that note and another Evans wrote to his parents during the trial of the officer who shot him. A judge has ruled that they are admissible as evidence in the trial of Brian Krook, which begins Monday, March 9, in Washington County District Court in Stillwater.

Krook shot and killed the 23-year-old Evans shortly after midnight on April 12, 2018, while responding to a 911 call for a suicidal man with a gun in Lake Elmo. When officers arrived at the scene, they found Evans, dressed in his formal firefighter uniform, kneeling in the intersection of Lake Elmo Avenue and 34th Street and holding a handgun to his head.

Evans told officers he wanted to kill himself while “officers made repeated attempts to persuade him to put down the gun,” according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which investigated the shooting. “At one point, Deputy Krook discharged his firearm, striking Evans multiple times.”

A Washington County grand jury last summer indicted Krook on a second-degree manslaughter charge. The Ramsey County attorney’s office is handling the case to avoid a conflict of interest.

According to the indictment, Krook caused Evans’ death by “culpable negligence” and “created an unreasonable risk and consciously took the chance of causing death or great bodily harm to another.”

Krook, 31, of Somerset Township, Wis., pleaded not guilty to the charge. The 10-year veteran of the sheriff’s office was briefly placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, returned to duty and then was placed back on paid administrative leave on June 22, according to the sheriff’s office.

An uncommon case

The case is a rare prosecution of a law enforcement officer. Only two others have been tried in connection with an on-duty death in recent Minnesota history: Jeronimo Yanez and Mohamed Noor.

Yanez, a former St. Anthony police officer, was charged with manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm in the 2016 shooting of motorist Philando Castile during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights. He was acquitted in 2017.

Noor, a former Minneapolis officer, fatally shot Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017. In that case, Noor and another officer were responding to a 911 call about a possible sexual assault behind Damond’s Southwest Minneapolis home. Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter and received more than 12 years in prison.

Between 900 and 1,000 people are shot and killed each year by police in the U.S., said Philip Stinson, professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He tracks police crime and oversees the Henry A. Wallace Police Crime Database.

“But it is very rare for an officer to be charged with murder or manslaughter after an on-duty shooting,” Stinson said. “In most police shootings, the officer is found to have been legally justified in using deadly force.”

In the past 15 years, 110 state and local police officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter in an on-duty shooting, according to data compiled by Stinson.

Of those officers charged since 2005, the year Stinson began collecting data, 42 were convicted — 18 by guilty plea and 24 by jury trial. The criminal cases for 48 of the officers ended in a non-conviction; 20 cases are still pending, he said.

“Jurors are reluctant to second-guess the split-second, life-or-death decisions that an on-duty police officer (makes) in a potentially violent street encounter,” Stinson said. “So it’s very difficult to get a conviction in these cases.”

Battle over notes' meaning

The Ramsey County prosecutors who are handling the case, Thomas Hatch and Andrew Johnson, declined to comment on the case last week.

Krook’s attorneys also declined to comment last week, but previously said the shooting of Evans was justified because he posed a threat to officers. The attorneys, Kevin Short and Paul Engh, also indicated in court documents that prosecutors withheld critical information from the grand jury.

In their motion to dismiss filed in December, Short and Engh said prosecutors omitted testimony during grand-jury proceedings from an expert who said the shooting was justifiable. They also said Evans was intoxicated and distraught over an estranged girlfriend and left two suicide notes expressing “his desire to be killed by the on-the-scene officers.”

Prosecutors argued in court documents that Evans’ notes did not state “that he intended to induce the officers to shoot him or that he was forgiving them for shooting him. Instead, he was apologizing to the first responders for the horror that he anticipated they would see. The defense’s claim to the contrary is objectively false.”

In a motion filed last month, prosecutors had argued that evidence suggesting Evans was suicidal was “irrelevant and would be unfairly prejudicial,” as was information about Evans’s blood-alcohol level. “Neither Deputy Krook nor any other law enforcement officer knew what Mr. Evans’ blood-alcohol level was at the time of this incident,” they wrote.

Evans, the father of a 3-year-old daughter, also left a note to his parents: “I’m so sorry for the pain this will cause you. I’m going home now to meet grandma and grandpa again, and I’ll tell them you send your love. With all my best, Your Son.”

Evans was 'moving his gun'

According to the motion to dismiss, Evans had been drinking rum-and-Cokes prior to the shooting, including “four strong ones” at his apartment in Lake Elmo in the hour before his death, and had a blood-alcohol level of 0.204, which is 2½ times the legal limit to drive.

When deputies arrived on the scene, they found Evans kneeling down “in the middle of the road with a gun to his head,” according to police reports. Evans, who told them he wanted to kill himself, was repeatedly told to drop the gun before Krook shot him. Evans had no criminal record or history of mental illness.

In his testimony before the grand jury, Washington County sheriff’s Deputy Michael Ramos said Evans “was moving his gun between his chest and his head.”

Krook testified before the grand jury that Evans was moving his gun “close to where it’s pointing at us, and I’m getting uncomfortable. I’m worried that if, you know, if he did pull the trigger while he’s got his head turned, the bullet is going to come at us.”

Evans was taken to Regions Hospital in St. Paul, where he died.

Expert witnesses, evidence ruling

The grand jury returned the indictment after hearing testimony from two use-of-force expert witnesses; both said Krook’s use of force was unreasonable. One of the experts, Jeff Noble, a former California police officer and frequent consultant on police use-of-force cases, is expected to testify at trial. Noble testified on behalf of the Ramsey County attorney’s office during the trial of St. Anthony police officer Yanez in connection with the shooting death of Castile. The total paid to Noble Consulting for his work on the Yanez trial was $34,986, according to the Ramsey County attorney’s office.

Judge Mary Yunker ruled last week that Evans’ notes to family and medics, as well as his blood-alcohol level, were admissible for trial. Prosecutors had argued the evidence wasn’t relevant.

Prospective jurors on Monday will receive a questionnaire that they will fill out the first day. The contents of the questionnaire, which has 51 questions, were released Friday. Among the questions: “Have you ever had any particularly good or bad experiences with law enforcement officers?” “Has anyone close to you died as a result of another person’s conduct?” and “Do you own any firearms?”

Jury selection is expected to take two or three days.

Yunker has set aside three weeks for the trial, said Kyle Christopherson, a spokesman for the state court information office.

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