A judge has ordered the city of Chaska to pay $1.75 million to the family and attorney of a woman fatally shot by a police officer in 2014.
A year after the shooting, the family of Dawn Pfister, 34, of Elkhorn, Wis., sued the city and officer Brady Juell in federal court, seeking more than $5 million. The lawsuit accused Juell of improperly using deadly force and the city of failing to properly train officers and discipline Juell.
Now, more than two years later, U.S. District Court Judge Paul Magnuson ordered May 23 that the city and the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust pay $1 million to Pfister’s mother, father and two children, plus $700,000 in attorney’s fees and $50,000 in other expenses to settle the case. Juell was dismissed from the case.
“You’d think they take a harder look at police conduct and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said attorney Bob Bennett, who represented the family. “The conduct here was pretty egregious.”
The city attorney could not be reached Thursday for comment.
On Feb. 7, 2014, Pfister’s boyfriend, Matthew Serbus, 36, of Brooklyn Center, led police on a high-speed chase during the morning rush hour before crashing a stolen car on Hwy. 212 in Eden Prairie. Serbus then got out of the car with a 3-inch knife and was shot after repeated commands to drop it from some of the 11 officers at the scene.
Pfister picked up the knife and Juell then shot Pfister. Police and her family disagreed over whether Pfister posed a threat at the time, and whether Juell used reasonable force in shooting her. Bennett argued that Pfister was trying to get the knife after being threatened with it and noted that the officer closest to her in the incident didn’t shoot.
A grand jury declined to indict Juell for shooting Pfister as well as the other officers who shot Serbus: Chaska officer Trent Wurtz, State Patrol trooper Mark Lund and Carver County Sheriff’s Cpl. Nathan Mueller. Grand juries don’t determine guilt or innocence, but rather whether there is probable cause that a crime was committed.
State statutes say that deadly force may be used by law enforcement to protect the officer or someone else from death or great bodily harm. In interviews with the BCA after the shooting, officers described Pfister as acting threateningly with the knife and said they thought she “meant business.”
Juell told state investigators that he grieved for the families of Pfister and Serbus. “But what gets me through it all is I know that they made that choice to do what they did,” he said. “They coulda laid down. … I had no choice.”
After the grand jury decision, the BCA released more than 500 pages of public documents from the case and grainy squad car videos that didn’t include the shooting. Bennett has since released the full graphic video. The case had been set for trial July 3.
In February, Chaska police awarded Juell, a 19-year officer, a distinguished service medal, citing his work in leading use of force training.