The 27-year-old man killed last fall in Minnetonka’s first-ever officer-involved fatal shooting had an unloaded revolver, but was intoxicated and would not put down the gun despite repeated orders from police.
Those details of the deadly four-minute encounter between Michael Tray and officers in a parking garage on the night of Oct. 23 were contained in documents released this week after a grand jury’s decision not to charge the officers who shot Tray.
On Wednesday, Tray’s family and friends said the report provided them with some closure.
“It’s good to know some type of answers,” said Rob Taylor, a friend and former college roommate. “But it’ll never bring Tray back.”
The Austin, Minn., native’s death was one of eight in Minnesota that occurred during 2013’s 22 officer-involved shootings, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
The 268 pages of documents obtained by the Star Tribune chronicle the intense moments in the parking garage. Tray, a St. Cloud State University graduate, was waiting for his girlfriend at her Minnetonka apartment when her roommate arrived just before 8:30 p.m. to find him sitting on the hall floor with a beer and a silver revolver. The roommate called police dispatchers and said it appeared that the handgun was cocked.
Tray’s girlfriend, who was driving to the apartment, later told police she asked him to walk away from the apartment until she could get there to put the gun away. Tray told her he was proud of the gun and didn’t want to leave it outside because of recent vehicle break-ins.
Officers James Comings and Ryan Smith arrived at Claremont Apartments and found Tray in a parking garage next to a dumpster where a partly empty beer bottle sat as he talked to his girlfriend on the phone. Smith later told investigators Tray saw them and that “the look he gave us appeared as if he was possibly intoxicated. It appeared as almost a blank stare and a look of surprise.”
‘Don’t touch the gun!’
The two officers ordered him to put his hands up. After several orders, Tray dropped the phone and raised his hands, showing his waistband area, where he had placed the revolver, according to documents. The two officers told investigators they shouted numerous times at Tray to get his hands up, to get on his knees, and not to touch the gun. “Don’t touch the gun. If you touch the gun I’m going to [expletive] kill you,” Smith said. “ … The male stated to me something along the lines of it’s empty or it’s not even loaded.”
But, Comings told investigators, Tray took a step toward him and said: “If you want the gun, why don’t you just come get it. Come on and get it.”
Comings said they perceived it as a “challenge to approach him. … He was not following commands but he was addressing me specifically.”
The officers said they continued to order Tray to not touch the gun. But, the officers told investigators, Tray placed his right hand near his waist and touched the butt of the gun. The officers shot once, and when they saw Tray’s gun out of his waistband, they shot again, telling investigators they feared for their safety. “I was afraid that the suspect, if given a further chance to control the gun, would have a clear shot at officer Comings,” Smith told investigators.
Comings told investigators Tray’s behavior was “extremely odd” and “not characteristic of encounters I have had in the past with individuals. It wasn’t at all compliant or what you would expect.”
Police vehicle cameras didn’t capture the shooting inside the parking garage and the apartment complex had no video cameras.
Minnetonka Police Chief Mark Raquet said Wednesday that the officers, who had no citizen complaints or disciplinary action in their less than two years with the department, handled the situation as they’re trained to do.
“We don’t know that the gun is not loaded or not,” he said. “That’s not a risk that officers are willing to take.”
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. “Those decisions have to be made real quickly,” Raquet said.
Officers and paramedics tried to revive Tray, but he died at the scene. According to the medical examiner, he had a blood-alcohol concentration of .25 — more than three times the legal limit for driving in Minnesota.
Among the items investigators found in his car were three empty beer bottles in the front and two boxes of ammunition, according to the documents. Investigators also noted that the revolver, a Colt .44 Anaconda magnum, had an empty cylinder.
Difficult for police, family
Tray’s family has said the gun was an heirloom from his father, who died a year ago. Tray’s mother told investigators he had no history of mental health issues or substance abuse.
On Wednesday, his stepfather, Jim Greer, declined to comment on the investigation, but said the family is struggling with Michael’s death.
“It’s kind of hard to go by the cemetery and see your wife sitting outside by a grave because she misses him so bad,” he said, choking up. “The whole thing’s been really, really hard.”
Raquet said the shooting was also hard on police.
“It impacted everyone in the department; it’s nothing we’ve ever dealt with,” he said. “For [the officers involved], they’re OK, but it’s something that will always be with them.
“I think everybody involved wishes it never happened.”