The attorney for a St. Paul police officer fired for shooting an unarmed Black man pushed back on Police Chief Todd Axtell’s framing of the encounter, saying the officer had reason to believe the suspect was armed.
Officer Anthony Dean, a six-year veteran of the force, was fired Tuesday for shooting Joseph Javonte Washington, who was wanted in connection with a kidnapping and assault Saturday night.
Axtell denounced Dean’s decision to shoot Washington, leaving him wounded. Without naming him, Axtell described Dean’s actions as neither reasonable nor necessary. As “police officers, we have a duty to use force only when required,” he said, noting that his decision would irreparably change the life of an officer who has “served honorably in the past.”
On Wednesday night, Dean’s attorney, Robert Paule, argued that the officers’ many attempts to de-escalate the situation were not shown in the 42-second clip of body camera footage released to the public.
Axtell did not distribute the video in its entirety; it does show officers deploying Tasers and a K-9 to stop Washington just before shots are fired.
When Washington ran toward police, Dean “discharged his firearm to protect his fellow officers and himself,” Paule said, adding that the suspect claimed to have a gun and “had used a knife earlier that evening in a violent assault and rape.”
No weapons were visible in the body camera footage and investigators never found any at the scene.
Paule asked that people withhold judgment until the investigation is completed.
Earlier Wednesday, the St. Paul Police Federation defended Dean’s record, touting his accomplishments on and off the force.
“Officer Dean has led an exemplary career as a law enforcement officer, and has received recognition and accolades for his compassion, commitment to community, and his mentorship of youth in St. Paul,” President Paul Kuntz said in a statement.
Dean, a lifelong St. Paulite and Central High School graduate, served eight years in the Marine Corps before joining the department in 2014. He was most recently assigned to the department’s Gang and Gun Unit.
After just one year patrolling the city’s Central District, Cmdr. Kurt Hallstrom nominated him as Minnesota American Legion’s officer of the year.
Dean has been the subject of three internal affairs investigations since 2015, each of which closed without formal discipline. One additional case related to Saturday’s North End shooting remains open.
Personnel records also show that he received three commendations in recent years, including a Life Saving Award for talking a suicidal woman off the railing of a bridge last spring. Axtell then praised him for his “professionalism and empathy” in a chaotic situation.
Two other letters of recognition applaud his work recovering firearms in the gang unit and solving a robbery.
Meanwhile, some Black community leaders and organizations like the St. Paul NAACP have applauded Axtell’s quick decision to fire Dean.
“[We expect] to see a thorough and prompt BCA investigation of this incident and appropriate consequences and accountability toward the officer involved,” said the Rev. Richard Pittman, the NAACP chapter president. “The St. Paul NAACP and all citizens of conscience expect that members of the public do not face the threat of being shot or killed when apprehended or stopped by law enforcement.”