On a rural stretch of Minnesota highway in the dead of night, a traffic stop turned violent when a 26-year-old man brazenly grabbed a state trooper's Taser, beat her with it and then put it to her head.
State Trooper Darcy Gagnon had arrested Elijah Lee Knowles for drunken driving about 5 miles east of Park Rapids early Saturday morning and was just about to handcuff him, according to a criminal complaint.
But Knowles pulled away and Gagnon "could see it in his eyes" that he was sizing her up, said Sean Meagher, State Patrol Brainerd District commander. "Her gut told her he was going to assault her."
Gagnon hurriedly told her dispatcher she needed help and drew her Taser. Knowles grabbed it from her and used it to repeatedly hit her in the head. Then he put the weapon to her head and pulled the trigger. It didn't fire -- the safety was on. Knowles then grabbed at Gagnon's hand gun.
Knowles, whose driver license lists him at 6-foot-1 and 200 pounds, lifted the 5-foot-2 Gagnon off the ground by the gun as he tried to wrestle the weapon from her, Meagher said. Gagnon, who was recovering from her injuries Monday, kept control of the gun. "I fully believe he was trying to kill her," Meagher said. "There's no other explanation for that."
Other officers knew Gagnon was in trouble.
"I can tell you that our dispatcher was shaken. He looks like a linebacker, but he felt so helpless because you can't be there," Meagher said. "There's a pit in your stomach and you don't know the extent of what's going on. The first officer who responded was only about 3 miles away. But he said it took forever to get there."
As backup officers arrived shortly after 1:30 a.m., Knowles jumped in his vehicle and raced away from a Hubbard County intersection that locals call Dorset Corner. Deputies pursued, sirens on and lights flashing. Knowles reached speeds that exceeded 110 miles per hour at times. About 6 miles down the road, Knowles hit the town of Nevis, where he tried to ram a patrol car, according to the criminal complaint.
With Nevis in his rearview mirror, Knowles sped through several stop signs. As he fled south to Hubbard County Road 33, Knowles tried to ram a second patrol car, the complaint states. As he sped through yet another stop sign at Minnesota Hwy. 64 and 200th Street, Knowles crashed and jumped out, fighting back as two deputies tried to restrain him. "The deputies used Mace and arm bars to secure Knowles in handcuffs," the complaint says. "As Knowles was being put in a patrol car he kicked one of the officers in the chest."
"It wasn't going to matter what size the arresting officer was," Meagher said. "He was ready to fight everybody. He wasn't going to jail on our terms."
Tests showed Knowles had a blood alcohol content of 0.143 percent, nearly double the legal limit for driving. A sample of his blood is being sent to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for further tests. Knowles, of Akeley, has had two DWI-related convictions since 2006 and four other driving convictions, according to state records.
On Monday, he was charged with six felonies, including first-degree assault, and three gross misdemeanors. He is being held in Hubbard County jail in lieu of $250,000 bail.
Meagher was with Gagnon as doctors tended to her in the hospital, using staples to close the wound in her head. "Certainly, she was shaken and hurt," he said. "But typical Darcy tried to find the good in the situation. She said, 'It could have been a lot worse.'"
Gagnon, who joined the State Patrol in 2009, led the Brainerd District in DWI arrests last year and is on track to repeat, Meagher said.
"She works in a very rural area. And you have to have a lot of courage to stop a car in an area where it's dark, there are no street lights and no other vehicles," Meagher said. "It's just you and a motorist. It takes a lot of guts. And I would describe Darcy as having a lot of guts."
Staff writer Pam Miller contributed to this report. Mary Lynn Smith • 612-673-4788