Moments after a gray BMW drove in reverse down a one-way street and slammed into his Minneapolis police SUV, officer Efrem Hamilton made what prosecutors deemed a foolhardy decision.
He hopped out and fired a single shot into the BMW’s rear panel, narrowly missing one of its occupants.
With his body camera rolling, Hamilton, 43, then holstered his 9-mm Beretta and calmly explained to a responding officer that he’d fired after the other car “backed into me.”
Then, turning to the BMW’s occupants, he asked: “You didn’t see me coming with my lights and stuff?”
Of the officers who responded to a shooting that fall night in 2016, Hamilton was the only one who fired his weapon, assistant Hennepin County attorney Tara Ferguson Lopez told the jury. She suggested that other officers at the scene, three of whom testified in Hennepin County District court Friday, handled the situation better.
Defense attorney Fred Bruno countered that his client was reacting to what he thought was the shooting suspect’s vehicle ramming his own. Based on information he’d received from dispatchers, his actions were justified, Bruno argued.
On the trial’s third day, jurors watched footage from Hamilton’s body-worn and dashboard cameras, which captured the lead-up to the shot. Hamilton stands accused of second-degree assault and two counts of recklessly discharging his weapon, all felonies. If convicted, he could face prison time and would be barred from ever again working as a cop in Minnesota.
Hamilton was working an off-duty job when he responded to the call about a large brawl-turned-shooting near Target Field on Nov. 20, 2016. Dispatchers aired a description of the suspect vehicle as a “gray sedan.”
Prosecutors say the BMW was actually trying to back away from the chaotic scene when Hamilton fired the shot. No one was hurt, but the case reignited the debate about law enforcement’s use of deadly force.
Hamilton was put on leave after being relieved of duty. A civilian review board later dismissed a complaint of excessive force against the officer as having no merit. But, police Chief Medaria Arradondo hasn’t yet said whether he would accept the board’s ruling.
Last January, the city reached a $150,000 settlement with the car’s six occupants — Deshaun Robinson, Devyn O’Curran, Chea Bemah, Caylea Wade, Michael Hughes and Thalia Johnson.
A heated exchange broke Friday after the last juror filed out of the courtroom for the noon lunchbreak.
Wade’s father, Lucious — a regular at the trial — walked across the aisle to confront a member of the officer’s family. Hamilton started moving toward Wade, prompting attorneys to step between the two men.
Wade was escorted into the hallway, where he was handed over to two police officers waiting their turn to take the stand. He was banned from attending the rest of the trial, but not arrested.
Afterward, Wade told reporters that he had gotten upset because he felt Hamilton’s family was giving him “the evil eye.”
“All I want is for him to say ‘sorry’ and to just take his lumps,” Wade later said of the officer, adding he was convinced the Hamilton would go unpunished. “It’s almost like my daughter is being put on trial here, when she was the one who was [shot at].”
Hamilton’s family declined through a representative to comment on the encounter.
His lawyer, Bruno, on Friday reiterated that he was under a gag order not to discuss the case with reporters.
The trial continues on Monday morning.