The man and woman killed by law enforcement officers on Hwy. 212 last week were shot after they refused to put down a knife, authorities said Wednesday.
Matthew V. Serbus, 36, and Dawn M. Pfister, 34, were shot several times by four officers after the car they fled police in crashed in Eden Prairie and they emerged with a knife.
The new details were released by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting.
The four officers — Chaska police Sgt. Brady Juell, Chaska police officer Trent Wurtz, State Patrol Trooper Mark Lund and Carver County Sheriff’s Office Cpl. Nathan Mueller — remain on administrative leave.
The incident unfolded early Friday when authorities got a report that a red Saab reported stolen from Colorado was speeding east on Hwy. 212 in Carver County and had rear-ended a car. Police caught up with the car and chased it at speeds of 80 to 90 miles per hour from Chaska to Eden Prairie.
After officers placed stop sticks on the highway, puncturing at least two of the Saab’s tires, it crashed between Hwy. 101 and Dell Road.
Pfister and Serbus then emerged from the car and Serbus “produced” a knife and was shot when he didn’t obey orders to drop it, according to the BCA, which declined to elaborate on what Serbus did with the knife. Pfister then took “possession of the knife” and also was shot, the BCA said.
Those who knew the couple said they’re still left with many questions.
“Family and friends need closure,” said Pauly Hoffman of Brooklyn Park, a longtime friend of Serbus’ who argued that police should have used a Taser or other methods to stop Serbus. “I know Matt has made bad decisions. But the way it ended is beyond shocking.”
Hoffman said the couple were returning to Minnesota after visiting friends in Colorado and may have had a camping knife with them.
He said they were returning to face pending criminal charges with hopes they could then move on and start a new life together.
“They were two people in love looking to start their lives over,” he said. “They weren’t violent people. Something went horribly wrong.”
Hoffman said Serbus didn’t own a car or have a driver’s license and the couple had stolen gas to make the drive from Colorado to Minnesota. They were staying with friends in the metro area, he said. “It doesn’t seem right — two people killed over one knife,” he said. “It does open up more questions.”
He said friends of the two planned a candlelight vigil for them at 6 p.m. Saturday at the Maple Grove Arboretum.
BCA investigators are still conducting tests and analyzing evidence and will then present their findings to the Hennepin County attorney. However, conclusive details about officer-involved shootings often take months to be disclosed.
The Minnetonka officer-involved fatal shooting last October of 27-year-old Michael Tray is still under review by the Hennepin County attorney’s office, as is the Orono officer-involved shooting of Ted Hoffstrom, 30, who confronted police in November after he shot and killed an Orono doctor. And last year, it took police more than four months to reveal details about a Minneapolis officer-involved shooting after a Hennepin County grand jury decided not to pursue charges against officers.
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. In 2013, 22 officer-involved shootings were reported in Minnesota, resulting in eight deaths, according to the BCA. In 2012, 27 officer-involved shootings statewide left eight dead.
Family still in shock
Pfister’s stepmother said last week the family is stunned and “looking for answers.” Pfister, the mother of two children, is originally from Elkhorn, Wis. Her funeral will be held in Illinois next Saturday.
Hoffman, who has known Serbus since playing on an elementary hockey team, said his friend started drinking and using drugs at Osseo High School and often ran away from home. Then, according to records, he gained a long criminal record for theft, robbery and drugs. In 2006, he was charged with third-degree murder in the drug overdose death of a 20-year-old woman, but the charges were later dropped.
He sought help, attending a treatment center in Duluth with Chris Foster of Forest Lake. “When he was clean, he’s a totally different person,” Foster said Wednesday. “He was a nice, kind person. I’m just astonished by this.”
Two months ago, Serbus called Hoffman asking for help in paying for a bus ticket to the Twin Cities from Wisconsin and said his life was looking up, with a new job repairing cell towers. Hoffman said Serbus also said he wanted to attend addiction recovery meetings with him.
But last month, the couple, who had met at a New Year’s Eve party, again ran into police, attempting to steal a car from a Rochester car dealership.
According to the criminal complaint, the couple test-drove several cars and stole two car keys, with Serbus returning after the dealership closed to take one of the cars. Police arrested Serbus, who told them he had found the key and was trying to return it. But Pfister told police that he had stolen the keys and that the couple planned to leave a motel they were staying at in the car.
Olmsted County had two pending warrants on the couple. Hoffman said they were returning to Minnesota to face the charges. “They wanted to start a new life,” he said. “They had no reason to end their lives.”