A Minneapolis police officer was charged with felony assault Tuesday for shooting at a car during a downtown melee in November.

Efrem Hamilton, 42, was working off-duty at a downtown bar when he responded to a “shots fired” call shortly after bar closing time on Nov. 19. A gray Cadillac sedan was reported to be leaving the scene of the incident.

Hamilton didn’t radio that he was going to the scene, according to the criminal complaint. He noticed a gray BMW leaving the scene, but didn’t know the driver had been ordered by police to drive away from the shooting area.

Hamilton attempted to block the car with his squad, which was driving backward. This caused the driver of the BMW to inadvertently ram the squad. Both vehicles had minor damage and nobody was injured.

Hamilton got out of his squad and fired a shot at the BMW without any warning to the six occupants, the complaint said. Nobody was hit.

He told investigators he fired at the driver because “that’s who rammed me” and that he feared for his life. He only fired one shot because he believed the driver was no longer a threat.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman charged Hamilton with second-degree assault and intentional discharge of a firearm. He made his first court appearance Tuesday. He was relieved of duty in December following the incident, and an internal probe is being conducted. Hamilton was not jailed.

“This latest development in the war on cops is alarming,” said Hamilton’s attorney Fred Bruno, in a statement.

“Officer Hamilton was responding to a brawl with shots fired. The suspect car called into dispatch matched the description and direction of the vehicle which rammed his squad,” he said. “It is beyond belief that the criminals who assaulted Officer Hamilton are not the subject of a felony complaint.”

Police Chief Janeé Harteau said in a statement Tuesday that she was aware of the charges.

“I am concerned and disappointed that a Minneapolis Police officer has been accused of criminal conduct, and we do not take this matter lightly,” she said, adding that the department would provide as much information as state law allows.

The car’s six passengers filed a complaint in connection with the incident. Activist groups including the NAACP and Black Lives Matter also decried Hamilton’s actions.

Caylea Wade, the 23-year-old driver of the BMW, was trying to leave the area with her friends after a night on the town, said her father, Lou Wade. An officer told the group to reverse the vehicle and return the way they came, he said, when a squad car approached from behind and the vehicles collided. A shot suddenly rang out, striking the driver’s side door, and the occupants were surrounded.

“They weren’t suspects. It’s unfortunate that they put my girl in harm’s way,” Wade said in an interview in November. “We just can’t have police officers on the force like that. I think it’s negligence.”

Bruno said Hamilton, who served in the Marines, acted correctly and committed no crime. He was dismayed at “the rapidity with which the politicians have pilloried Hamilton.”

Union President Lt. Bob Kroll called Hamilton a respected officer.

There were four women and two men in the BMW, and all but one was a person of color, Freeman said. Hamilton is black. He added that there’s no indication that race had anything to do with the shooting.

“In that three seconds, he had no business discharging his weapon,” Freeman said.

Freeman said police are to use deadly force only in the “rarest of circumstances” when concerned for their safety.

“In this case, that standard was not even close here,” he said. “It had to be charged.”

 

Staff writer Brandon Stahl contributed to this report.