Shotgun in hand, Ray Kmetz paused after walking up the eight steps leading to the chambers where the New Hope City Council was meeting that January night. In a small hallway nearby, 31 police officers, their relatives and city employees had gathered after a swearing-in and awards ceremony.
Startled to see law enforcement officers blocking his path to the chambers, Kmetz raised his semiautomatic shotgun and fired once. Officer Beau Schoenhard, whose wife and 15-month-old son were nearby, saw Kmetz level the gun and lunged at him, knocking the muzzle upward just as he fired. In the ensuing chaos, Schoenhard was wounded by bullets fired by a fellow officer, who also shot and killed Kmetz.
The Jan. 26 attack by Kmetz, a 68-year-old mentally ill man who had a history of threats against the City Council and more than 100 contacts with police over several decades, landed Schoenhard and fellow officer Joshua Eernisse in the hospital. Several others received minor shrapnel wounds.
This month, New Hope Police Chief Tim Fournier, publicly sharing details about the shooting for the first time, said the area around the City Council chambers resembled a war zone, with fragments of Kmetz’s shot flying into the chambers and ricocheting off walls as people dashed for cover.
Evidence uncovered later indicated that the shooting wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment plan by a man suffering from paranoid delusion. In Kmetz’s Cadillac was ample evidence of planning — two shotguns, a large cache of ammunition, pepper spray, and plastic handcuffs and ankle chains apparently to be used to tie up council members for a possible hostage situation or mass killing.
“This was the darkest day in my career, but also the proudest, because of how my officers responded,” said Fournier, whose badge was hit by shrapnel. “But then you start thinking of the ‘what ifs.’ You can’t let it get ahold of you. They are self-destructive thoughts.”
Following four surgeries, Schoenhard returned to work recently; Eernisse returned two months after the incident. Officer Erick Dyer and Capt. Scott Crocker, who both shot Kmetz, were cleared of any wrongdoing by a Hennepin County grand jury after a day’s worth of testimony in October. The officers involved in the shooting have a combined 37 years of police experience.
An angry, suspicious man
Even before Jan. 26, police knew a violent encounter with Kmetz was possible.
Since 1980, New Hope and four other police departments had had 115 contacts with him, and he had been charged with dozens of crimes. The city of Crystal had obtained a restraining order when some of his threats “went a little too far,” Fournier said. And in 2009, his paranoia about alleged police violence ramped up after he was tased by a New Hope officer after approaching him during a traffic stop.
Almost every week, Kmetz called 911 dispatchers to let police know he was leaving his house. In one call, he told the dispatcher he was trying to be a law-abiding citizen and survive. “I don’t want to be shot in my driveway,” he said.
As Fournier reflected this week, he said he was most frustrated by three aspects of the shooting incident. Kmetz had received several shotguns through a straw purchase by an acquaintance, even though he was prohibited from owning guns. The chief also believes Kmetz slipped through the cracks of the state’s mental health system when he was released from St. Peter Hospital two years before the shooting. He had been found incompetent to stand trial.
“But I believe he knew what he was doing,” Fournier said.
The chief said he is deeply disturbed that the graduation ceremony, a joyous event that included officers’ relatives, became a place of violence.
Officers’ families all understand that the job is dangerous, and many officers don’t talk about their work at home, he said.
“Now Kmetz comes into our house and puts people in harm’s way,” Fournier said. “Just minutes before the shooting, I was standing at the podium in the chambers joking with the officers that they were still on probation for another day, but I wasn’t expecting any trouble.”
‘The ceiling was shaking’
Less than three hours before the ceremony, Kmetz had left his apartment in Belle Plaine and had gone to a Fleet Farm store to buy ammunition and snack food. He drove around the western suburbs, stopping at McDonald’s.
Minutes after the City Council meeting started, he pulled into a handicapped parking spot in front of City Hall. The crowd from the swearing-in ceremony was pouring into the hallway, and the chamber doors had been closed to keep out the noise.
Fournier, a former SWAT team member, was about to take his picture with Eernisse when he was temporarily blinded by the muzzle flash from Kmetz’s shotgun. “The ceiling was shaking,” he said.
Dyer and Crocker, standing a few feet away from Kmetz, fired eight shots. Mortally wounded, Kmetz crumbled onto Schoenhard, who then was dragged by Dyer to safety. Fearing a second shooter, officers locked down the building as police from surrounding cities rushed to assist.
Fournier said every officer's critical-incident training kicked in. It’s extremely rare that a chief is directly involved in an officer-involved shooting, so he was giving orders and reacting as another officer on the scene.
“It was bizarre to see all of City Hall as a crime scene and learning the chief was in the foxhole with the troops,” said attorney Fred Bruno, who was called to the scene to represent Crocker and Dyer through the state’s police and peace officer association legal defense fund. “Then you have two officers who were heroes that had to be put on house arrest until they could give their statements. It has to be done.”
Fournier had his officers take several days off after the shooting, and says he couldn’t sleep for four days.
The chief, a New Hope cop since 1993, acknowledged that there was good luck involved in his officers just happening to be at the council meeting that night.
“We’ve turned the corner,” he said. “I’m happy to have both officers back, and everybody is healthy.”
Since Schoenhard was away from work for so long, he will receive some retraining from his best friend, Dyer. They have long made their peace that Dyer was the one who injured him with friendly fire.