Ramsey County Attorney John Choi on Friday cleared two St. Paul police officers in the fatal shooting of Cordale Handy last March, saying their actions were justified when Handy twice pointed a gun at them.
Handy, 29, of Waukegan, Ill., was killed at 2:27 a.m. March 15 after police responded to multiple 911 calls about Handy firing 16 gunshots in an apartment in the 700 block of E. 6th Street during a dispute with his girlfriend. Officers arrived as Handy fled the apartment with a pistol.
Officers Mikko Norman and Nathaniel Younce arrived and confronted Handy, ordering him to drop his weapon. According to investigators, Handy twice raised the pistol at the officers before Norman and Younce fired three and four shots respectively at Handy, killing him. An unloaded Glock .45 caliber pistol with an extended magazine was found 10 feet from Handy’s body.
Andrew Stroth, a civil rights attorney from Chicago representing Handy’s family, said Handy’s mother, Kim Handy Jones, is “deeply disappointed” in the decision.
“But she’s emboldened and will continue her fight for justice on behalf of Cordale,” Stroth said. “We believe there’s a pattern and practice that has resulted in the unjustifiable killing of African-Americans. There’s a systemic issue in St. Paul, and the Cordale Handy case is not an isolated case of police misconduct.”
Handy Jones called for reform in the wake of the shooting. She filed a federal lawsuit in April against the city, its police department and the three officers present when her son was killed.
A memo written by Choi lays out the facts of the case, calling the officers’ actions appropriate and justified.
“Both officers repeatedly ordered Mr. Handy to drop his gun. Instead, Mr. Handy did not comply and pointed his gun a second time at Officer Norman, at which time both officers fired their weapons, fatally wounding him,” Choi wrote. “While it is true that information was presented to the officers that Mr. Handy’s gun may have been unloaded, it would be unreasonable for anyone to expect and incredibly dangerous for the officers to presume that was true under these facts and circumstances.”
Norman and Younce, both two-year veterans of the department, were not wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting. Although there is no footage of the shooting, security cameras caught footage of the officers firing their weapons.
‘The situation chose them’
In a statement, Chief Todd Axtell called the incident a “tragedy.”
“My heart goes out to the Handy family, who has lost a loved one. I also feel for the officers who ran toward danger, had a stolen gun pointed at them and were forced to take action. They did not choose the situation; the situation chose them,” Axtell said in the statement. “ … The investigation revealed evidence that shows the violence, terror and danger endured by those in the apartment building and neighborhood during the minutes that preceded the incident. Sixteen shots were fired inside the apartment. Lives were put at risk. Officers showed incredible restraint, giving Mr. Handy multiple opportunities to drop his weapon. And even then, he made the decision to point his gun at them. While the investigation clearly shows that our officers did everything they could to pursue a different outcome, I take no solace in the fact that our officers were put in such a dangerous position and a man lost his life.”
Interviews with witnesses and videos show that before Handy fired the gunshots inside the apartment, he was “a little off,” “high,” “eyes glassed over,” and described to be having hallucinations, according to the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation. Handy allegedly thought someone was hiding in the apartment and trying to kill him. His girlfriend, Markeeta Nicole Johnson-Blakney, told him no one else was inside the apartment.
In her 911 call and when officers arrived, she told them that Handy “had a gun that was unloaded and he was high on drugs,” the memorandum said. Johnson-Blakney “urged officers not to hurt him,” the document said.
Video shows Handy walking with his dog in the Dayton’s Bluff neighborhood. He was holding a pistol with an extended magazine and appeared to be “very unsteady and erratic in his physical movements,” the memo said.
When officers began approaching Handy and ordered him to “stop, drop the gun, get on the ground,” Handy “unintentionally ‘flopp[ed]’ down on his buttocks and laid on his back on the curb.”
As officers got closer, Handy sat “upright and briefly rais[ed] the pistol toward Officer Normal before lowering it,” the document said. Officers ordered Handy to drop the gun. Handy again raised the firearm and pointed toward Norman.
Norman and Younce then fatally shot Handy.
Autopsy and toxicology reports show that Handy had THC and N-ethyl pentylone, or “Molly,” in his system.
Younce told investigators he was concerned for the safety of himself, Norman, Johnson-Blakney and other residents in the area.
Staff writer Abby Simons contributed to this report.