In September 2016, Jamie Joseph Lewis had lost his girlfriend and his job and hadn't been taking his medication for depression. He went to the ex-girlfriend's Burnsville home, gave her a suicide note, then left with a handgun.
Worried, she called police to report that Lewis, 48, was armed and suicidal. About an hour later, he was dead after Burnsville Police Sgt. Steven Stoler said Lewis pointed a gun at him and he was forced to shoot Lewis in self-defense. Stoler and his partner, officer Brett Levin, were later cleared in the shooting.
A federal lawsuit filed last week claims, however, that Stoler shot Lewis in the back after mistaking a beer Lewis was drinking for a gun.
Instead of working to defuse a situation with a mentally ill man, Burnsville police intentionally escalated it, leading to Lewis' death, according to the lawsuit filed by his mother, Linda Lewis, which seeks $1.5 million for her loss. The suit also claims that the officers conspired afterward to obstruct an investigation into the shooting. Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom announced in July 2017 that the shooting was justified.
According to the lawsuit, "the facts tell a different story." "Although officers were on-scene for more than an hour and had an opportunity to call for air support, at no time did officers request a mental health crisis team or anyone else whose primary task was dealing with mental health crises," the suit reads.
An attorney representing the city of Burnsville, Joe Flynn, said "there's very little that's accurate about the lawsuit."
He said that Lewis, a felon, told his ex-girlfriend that he wouldn't go back to prison before leaving her apartment that night. He also said that the evidence was clear that Lewis sat up and pointed a gun at Stoler, causing the officer to fire. In declining to charge the officers, Backstrom said, among other reasons, that another officer looked through his rifle scope and saw Lewis holding a gun. A fully loaded handgun was later found near Lewis' body, with blood on the grip and the safety off.
"This was a dynamic situation, and the guy was moving," Flynn said. "The fact that he was shot in the back under the circumstances here is not significant."
The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which investigated the shooting, later released nearly 500 pages of documents and audio and video from the shooting.
According to the audio, Lewis told his ex-girlfriend if he got caught with a gun he would "go down fighting." Stoler and Levin were radioed this information as they approached Lewis' apartment complex.
A state trooper helicopter spotted Lewis nearby about 9:30 p.m., and Levin slowly drove his squad about 30 to 40 yards away. Through the scopes on their rifles, both officers could see his gray handgun.
At this point, Levin told himself, "This is for real. He's going to kill me." Lewis, who was lying down, pointed the gun at his head before aiming it toward the officers, the BCA said. Stoler then shot him dead.
This is the second lawsuit filed against Burnsville police officers alleging excessive force while dealing with someone who was mentally ill.
In March 2016, police smashed the car window of Map Kong, who was thrashing inside with a knife while parked in a lot. After being stunned twice by officers, Kong ran from the car with the knife in his hand. Officers opened fire, shooting him 15 times and killing him.
After a grand jury found that the officers' use of force was justified, Kong's family filed suit, saying the shooting was excessive and unconstitutional.
In December, Judge Susan Richard Nelson denied the city's request to dismiss the complaint, saying "it should be for a jury to decide whether the officers acted reasonably under the circumstances." Burnsville appealed that decision.