John Birkeland was the kind of guy who never forgot family members’ birthdays, liked politics and eschewed violence. And he was crazy about dogs.
But on Wednesday night, Birkeland went on a rampage, allegedly yelling, swearing and throwing things inside his Roseville apartment. Police responding to noise complaints from neighbors made a forced entry and sent in a K-9 dog. When officers found Birkeland hiding in a closet, he stabbed the dog in the head with a kitchen knife, and police shot him dead.
“I am in complete shock. He’s the most harmless person you could imagine, the last person I’d ever expect to be killed by police,” said his niece Cassandra MacDuff, of Austin, Texas, who identified the 52-year-old Birkeland. “He loved dogs. He would not have done that unless he felt threatened. I can’t believe my uncle is lying in a morgue with bullets in him.”
Around 9:40 p.m., a neighbor heard shouting coming from Birkeland’s third-floor apartment on the 1600 block of County Road B. According to police, residents have witnessed similar “mental outbursts” in the past and were told to call police when such incidents occur. Police have had four previous contacts with Birkeland since May 2015, records show.
On Wednesday, about 10 minutes later, officers arrived and tried to talk to Birkeland, saying, “John, we are worried about you” and “please open the door,” a resident of the building said.
Birkeland refused, telling police he was “fine” but had lost his wallet. After getting no further response and learning that there was a warrant for his arrest from a December case in which he gave a false name to police, officers decided to go in. They announced to Birkeland that a K-9 dog would be used to search his apartment. When Birkeland stabbed the dog, police fired. Officers offered aid to Birkeland, but he died at the scene, said Lt. Lorne Rosand.
MacDuff said Birkeland had lived in Roseville a short time and said he had had some tough luck recently. He’d lost his mother and a brother in the past few years. She believed that he was between jobs. At times he self medicated and got intoxicated, but still had a sound mind, she said.
“He was a very smart guy, loved politics and knew what was going on. He didn’t have mental issues,” she said.
Born in Gonvick, Minn., Birkeland graduated from St. Cloud State University, according to his Facebook page.
Before moving to Roseville, Birkeland worked at the Listen Drop-In Center in Grand Forks, N.D. There he wrote grants and connected people with disabilities to the performance arts, his niece said.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is taking the lead in investigating.
Two officers involved in the shooting, 18-year veteran John Jorgensen and four-year veteran Kyle Eckert, were placed on administrative leave. Three other officers who witnessed the shootings also are on leave.
The dog, Otis, was taken to the University of Minnesota Veterinary Hospital and treated for noncritical injuries.