Public documents released Tuesday revealed the dramatic, tense minutes that led up to the deadly shooting of a couple by police officers on Hwy. 212 nearly a year ago.
Redacted squad car dash-camera videos and more than 500 pages of documents show that Matthew Serbus, 36, of Brooklyn Center, ignored repeated commands by officers armed with rifles and handguns to get out of the car after it crashed in Eden Prairie following a pursuit.
Instead, Serbus pulled his girlfriend, Dawn Pfister, 34, of Elkhorn, Wis., out of the stolen car, waving a knife before officers shot him. And although officers reported that Pfister was an apparent hostage, police say she then grabbed the knife, with one officer saying she was "slinging it" toward them before she was shot.
The new details offer the first full account from the four officers who shot the couple Feb. 7. Last week, a Hennepin County grand jury declined to indict them.
"You know, I think I tried every option," State Patrol Trooper Mark Lund, a 14-year veteran, told state investigators. " … I went through so many different options and things to try and get them to eliminate their threat so that we could help them."
About 7:30 a.m. that day, police responded to a call of a car speeding erratically after rear-ending another car. In a stolen red Saab, Serbus and Pfister then led police on a chase from Chaska to Eden Prairie before the car, with one flat tire and a popped-up hood blocking the windshield, slowed and crashed into a sound wall. Pfister had been sticking her head out the window to try to use an ice scraper to drop the hood.
As Chaska Sgt. Brady Juell, a 17-year officer with the department, pursued the car, he took out his rifle and laid it across his lap in preparation for what he told investigators looked like a "high-risk stop."
"This just isn't normal," he said, according to the transcript of his interview. "These people were so determined to try to get away from us or to keep the cops away from 'em I had never been in this situation before. It was extremely scary."
For three minutes, grainy squad car dash cam videos show Lund repeatedly shouting over at Serbus to get out of the car and put up his hands.
"Get out of the car, get out of the car!" he yells to Serbus. "You draw and I'll [expletive] kill you. Get out of the car now!"
Instead, Serbus stepped out and then ducked back into the vehicle, though it's not visible what he's doing. Cpl. Nathan Mueller, who's been with the Carver County Sheriff's Office for nine years, later told investigators that Serbus went back and forth out of the car and just looked at the officers three or four times, never saying a word.
"The look on his face … I haven't seen in a long time or ever have seen, um, I knew that he was, he was not gonna comply and I could tell that … something was more than just a pursuit," Mueller told investigators. " … It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up. … the whites of his eyes were the size of a baseball."
On the dash video, an officer is heard telling the other officers as Serbus is ducking into the car: "Be prepared for whatever; I don't know what the [expletive] he's got."
Meanwhile, Lund keeps screaming over and over again. "Show me your hands! Show me your hands! Show me your hands! Get out of the car so we can render aid if needed — now!"
But Serbus "didn't react, didn't care," Juell said, telling investigators the man looked drugged. "He had cops with guns pointing at him and he couldn't care. He kept goin' back. Quick movements. It was like he wanted us to shoot him. It was like he was trying to get us to react and to shoot him, and this scared the hell out of me."
An officer yelled at someone to get a rifle after seeing Serbus grab something from the vehicle. Lund later told investigators he saw Serbus move his coat, reaching to his waist belt, and that he saw a black object that could be a gun, so he continued to command Serbus to put his hands up. Instead, dash videos show Serbus pulling Pfister from the driver's side.
"Lay down so we can help you!" Lund says. "Sir, you don't want to die here."
"He's got a gun and her as body armor," an officer is heard saying before officers reported that it appeared to be a hostage situation.
The couple is shown facing each other and moving stiffly. Officers who witnessed the incident told investigators it appeared that they were hugging or dancing in a weird way, chest to chest. Another officer said they were "bouncing all over the place, very fast, jittery kinda movements."
"At this time I transferred my thinking to, this is not a hostage situation and this is kind of a thing where she and him have made some plan," Chaska police officer Trent Wurtz, a 14-year veteran of the department, told investigators. "Like have they — they doin' a suicide-by cop? And — and she's shielding him and she — and at one point I saw 'em kiss um, their behavior was bizarre and unsafe."
The two were "working as a team," he added.
'Lay down right now!'
Mueller later told investigators that Serbus kept reaching at his back like he was pulling at something, with one hand around Pfister's waist as it appeared they were talking.
"Lay down right now!" officers shouted as a bang is heard on the video. Video cameras show Pfister starting to fall to the ground, but Serbus pulled her back up.
"I don't think it's a gun, guys, I can't tell," an officer is heard saying before Serbus waved a knife at them. "It's a knife! C'mon, drop it! Don't do that to her."
On the video, officers are heard saying that Serbus is going to stab Pfister and the video ends. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension cites state statute that allows it to redact video or photos "clearly offensive to common sensibilities."
But in BCA documents detailing officer interviews with investigators, officers said it appeared that Serbus was stabbing Pfister in the stomach. The couple had separated slightly so officers fired gunshots at Serbus, causing him to fall, pulling Pfister down with him, officers said.
It "was a lot like Thelma and Louis movie … they appeared to be interacting and saying goodbyes and he was still clenched [with the] weapon … in the middle of his waistband," Lund told investigators, adding later that they were both "so wobbly that they're impaired on something or they're injured."
Juell described Pfister as "a walking corpse," whose lips were blue and skin was "as white as … paper." He said Serbus didn't react to initial shots fired. "Now I'm thinking, this guy's on drugs, he's superhuman, he's not being stopped by .223 rounds …"
Then, officers said Pfister didn't stand up fully, but pried the knife out of Serbus' hands and "advanced it toward the officers," with one witness saying it looked like she was "slinging it."
"It was blowing my mind that … if she's the victim here, she's the one being held hostage, why is she grabbing the knife and not running toward the safety of the officers," one officer who witnessed the scene said.
Lund told investigators Pfister brought the knife up over her head and was stumbling to get to her feet — about 6 feet away from officers, with the knife facing them.
"She was gonna get up and run at us," an officer told investigators. " … She grabbed it and the manner in which she was holding it she, she meant business."
Officers shot at her and then, Serbus reached and regained the knife, police said, before officers fired again at him.
'We did the right thing'
All of the officers involved in the incident told investigators that the couple posed a public safety risk.
"I think we did the right thing," Wurtz told investigators.
State statutes justify the use of deadly force by law enforcement to protect the officer or someone else from death or great bodily harm.
"I — I feel a ton of grief for these families, for these people that made that choice," Juell told investigators, adding that he has terrible headaches from the shooting and doesn't sleep. "Um but what gets me through as I know I did what I had to, I had no choice. I — I — I have 19 years of training in law enforcement and 16 of those years as a trainer and I know what deadly force is and I [know] what they were tryin' … I thought he was gonna try to kill her and have us kill him."
Bob Bennett, an attorney hired by Pfister's family to pursue a case against the officers, had a different view.
"It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life," he said. "It's a sham. It's false. They walked up to her and executed her. They have to hope no one sees the unredacted videos."