Nearly four months after officers shot and killed a couple on Hwy. 212 in Eden Prairie, the couple’s family and friends are still waiting for answers in the case.
On Wednesday, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced the end of the investigation into the Feb. 7 incident that killed Matthew Serbus, 36, originally from Maple Grove, and Dawn Pfister, 34, of Elkhorn, Wis.
The case now goes to the Hennepin County attorney’s office to review for potential charges. But details may not be released for weeks until the case closes.
“The family just wants justice,” Pfister’s father, Michael Kennedy, said Wednesday.
During the morning rush hour on Feb. 7, Serbus and Pfister were in a stolen car from Colorado when it rear-ended a car, then took off, leading police on a high-speed chase on eastbound Hwy. 212 from Chaska to Eden Prairie.
After officers placed stop sticks on the highway, puncturing at least two of the car’s tires, it crashed between Hwy. 101 and Dell Road. The BCA says Serbus then emerged from the car and “produced a knife,” ignoring repeated commands to drop it. After officers fired at Serbus, the BCA says Pfister then “took possession” of the knife, and she was shot.
The four officers involved — Chaska police Sgt. Brady Juell, Chaska police officer Trent Wurtz, State Patrol trooper Mark Lund and Carver County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Nathan Mueller — were put on administrative leave and later returned to work.
The Hennepin County attorney’s office will now review the case and send it to a grand jury to either clear or indict the officers. Grand jury proceedings are confidential, and no other details will be released until after the grand jury’s decision.
“There’s no way in my mind that I can think of that would justify what happened,” said Pauly Hoffman, a longtime friend of Serbus. “ … The deadly force they use might just need to be reviewed. There’s just so many questions.”
The Hwy. 212 shooting is one of six officer-involved shootings in Minnesota reported to the BCA so far this year. In 2013, 22 officer-involved shootings, resulting in eight deaths, were reported in Minnesota. In 2012, 27 officer-involved shootings statewide left eight dead
This year, a grand jury cleared officers five months after a Minnetonka officer-involved shooting, and this month a grand jury gave the same “no-bill” result in an officer-involved shooting in Orono last November.
A Star Tribune review of BCA records showed that law enforcement’s use of deadly force was justified in 82 of 83 shootings in the past decade.
Minneapolis attorney Robert Bennett, who has worked on numerous police officer misconduct cases, has been retained by Pfister’s family and is preparing to sue the agencies involved, arguing the deadly force was a violation of Pfister’s civil rights. Initial police scanner reports called Pfister a hostage, so police shouldn’t have shot her, Bennett said.
“We’ll see what the other videotapes show,” he said of police squad cameras. “I have no expectation that Hennepin County will do the right thing to indict these people.”
‘Tense, dynamic’ cases
State statutes justify the use of deadly force by law enforcement to protect an officer or someone else from death or great bodily harm, among other reasons.
And just this week, the Supreme Court threw out an “excessive force” claim against Arkansas officers who chased a speeding car and shot the driver, concluding that deadly force was constitutional.
While he couldn’t discuss any specific case, longtime law enforcement expert and Dakota County Chief Deputy Tim Leslie said that generally, the public is quick to judge police in shootings.
“We can all, in 20/20 hindsight, judge these people, but we weren’t there,” he said. “It happens very fast. It’s very tense and very dynamic.”
Asked why officers don’t use Tasers or other nonlethal methods in similar situations, Leslie said officers can, but they also need to make quick decisions about protecting the public. Police are also trained, he said, that a person less than 21 feet away with a knife can stab an officer before they can grab a gun out of a holster.
“Put yourself in their circumstances,” he said.
Pfister’s family is waiting and hoping to know more about what happened between her and officers.
“It’s horrible — the waiting,” said Bridget Johnson, Pfister’s stepmother, adding about Kennedy, her husband: “The bottom line is he wants justice for his daughter.”