A Washington County grand jury declined Wednesday to indict two St. Paul police officers involved in the January fatal shooting of Marcus Golden.

"I think the case was compelling and strong," said County Attorney Pete Orput, who was asked to handle the case to avoid a conflict of interest in Ramsey County.

The "no bill" decision means that the officers — Jeremy Doverspike and Dan Peck — have been cleared of wrongdoing and will return to work, Orput said.

Early in the morning of Jan. 14, police had been called to the 200 block of University Avenue E. in St. Paul on a report of a man sending death threats via text message. They had been told that the suspect was known to carry a gun.

Officers drove behind an apartment building and found Golden's SUV parked in a dark and "very secluded" area, police said at the time.

The two uniformed officers ordered Golden to step out of his vehicle.

He refused, and they fired their weapons when Golden drove at them at high speed, nearly striking Doverspike.

Golden died at the scene.

Police have said that a loaded handgun was found within Golden's reach after he was shot.

'Tremendously emotional'

Orput said Wednesday that the case has "caused the officers involved a great deal of stress," but he said that they acted appropriately.

"One officer still believes he was about a millisecond away from dying," Orput said. "The fact they got involved in something where they had to shoot has been tremendously emotional for them.

"It seems like people have this idea that cops are out looking for this kind of force and that's the last thing they want — these two cops in particular," he said.

Golden's death came against a backdrop of national rage over police shootings of black men. In the days after the killing, the St. Paul chapter of the NAACP and an attorney for Golden's mother called for a civil rights investigation because he was black.

In a statement issued Thursday morning, St. Paul NAACP President Jeff Martin said he was "deeply disappointed" by the grand jury's conclusion.

"The death of Marcus Golden by the hands of the St. Paul Police Department is a distressing symptom of the untested and overaggressive policing culture that has become commonplace in communities of color all across the country," Martin said.

"The grand jury's decision does not mean a crime was not committed in St. Paul, Minnesota, nor does it mean we are done fighting for Marcus Golden."

Orput said Wednesday that the media scrutiny of what's happened in cities such as Baltimore and New York and St. Louis has made it "more difficult for people to be objective and pay attention" to the facts of the Golden case "and not make bigger decisions about it.

"It was my job to present neutrally and fairly all the facts," Orput continued. "This case amounted to almost a thousand pages of police reports and it was one of the most thoroughly investigated cases I've ever seen."

Internal probe is next

St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders said that now that the criminal investigation is complete, the department will start its internal investigation into the shooting, which is standard procedure.

"This case demonstrates the difficult and dangerous nature of the job," Linders said. "It shows that our officers are forced to make split-second decisions to protect themselves and the public.

Staff Writers David Chanen and Chao Xiong contributed to this report.

Kevin Giles • 651-925-5037