The family of a Twin Cities man who was fatally shot by Ramsey County sheriff’s deputies last year said they’ve faced poor communication and roadblocks in obtaining information about the case and his body.
Darren Jahnke was shot April 16, 2017, but his body wasn’t approved for release to his family until Tuesday, the same day relatives and activists gathered outside the sheriff’s office to voice their concerns.
“The way our family has been treated during the course of the last 10 months is unacceptable,” said Jahnke’s sister, Jenny Vance. “There’s no compassion for surviving family members who face devastating loss due to governmental agencies’ actions. There are no real answers, no emotional advocacy, no transparency, no accountability.”
Among Vance’s concerns: It took authorities three days to tell the family Jahnke had been killed despite Vance’s efforts to confirm the information. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which investigated the shooting, allegedly misplaced evidence, and the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office allegedly didn’t return about a half-dozen messages Vance left about the release of her brother’s body.
Jahnke, 47, was shot inside an RV parked in the 3200 block of Fanum Road in Vadnais Heights. The BCA said at the time that a preliminary investigation showed that deputies on patrol approached a car parked near the RV. A woman in the car told them that Jahnke was inside the RV.
Deputies attempted to speak with Jahnke. Four deputies entered the RV and a struggle ensued, prompting two deputies to deploy their Tasers, which were ineffective. Jahnke then allegedly disarmed one of the deputies, and deputy Andre Rongitsch fired his weapon, striking Jahnke.
Jahnke’s family said he was fixing his best friend’s RV when the shooting occurred.
Rongitsch and the other deputies at the scene, Lisa Daly, Doug Haider and Sara Naglosky, were placed on standard administrative leave following the shooting and are back on regular duty.
The BCA forwarded its findings to the Ramsey County attorney’s office on Jan. 24 for review of possible charges. No decision has been issued.
Vance said a BCA investigator told her late last year that the agency had misplaced fingerprint evidence, but BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira denied the accusation.
“The BCA did not misplace evidence,” said Oliveira, who declined to elaborate further.
Oliveira said the agency confirmed Jahnke’s death to Vance on April 19 after the medical examiner’s office made a positive identification and “has been in regular communication with her since then.”
Vance said Jahnke’s body was released last April for one day so the family could view him, but that authorities demanded that the remains be kept in their custody.
Lori Hedican, chief investigator for the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s Office, said her office approved the release of Jahnke’s remains a few days after the autopsy in April. But the ultimate discretion to withhold remains in a pending investigation lies with the county attorney’s office, and any plans for cremation can influence that since defense attorneys have the right to request an independent autopsy if criminal charges are filed, she said.
The family had initially planned cremation, Vance said, but are now opting for burial so they can have an independent autopsy performed.
Jahnke’s family said they were told before their afternoon news conference that Jahnke’s remains would be released, but believed it was contingent on him being cremated. However, Hedican said that was not the case.
Authorities released the body, she said, with the understanding — not a condition — that the family wished to cremate him.
“I’m so sorry that there’s confusion,” Hedican said, adding that she did not recall receiving direct requests from the family to release his remains sooner.