A St. Louis Park police officer will not be charged for fatally shooting an unarmed man who had frightened his girlfriend and hid in her bedroom, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office announced Friday.
Officer Samuel Heffernan, who had been on the force for six years at the time, acted reasonably when he fired his weapon at Matthew N. Tuhkanen on Jan. 19, 2019, County Attorney Mike Freeman said in a written statement.
Tuhkanen, 35, of Anoka, “suddenly reached toward a blind spot, causing the officers to reasonably believe that he was reaching for a gun or other concealed weapon,” the county attorney said.
Representatives for Tuhkanen could not be reached for comment.
Heffernan’s attorney, Fred Bruno, applauded Freeman’s decision.
“Officer Heffernan made a difficult decision under very difficult and rapidly unfolding circumstances,” Bruno said. “He responded as his training and experience dictated.”
According to a news release from Freeman’s office: Tuhkanen’s on-again, off-again girlfriend and the mother of his child had called 911 about 5 p.m. She reported that he was in her apartment in the 2700 block of Louisiana Court and that they had argued but he had not hurt her.
Police responded to the scene, where a man ran out of the building and back inside. Police could not find Tuhkanen.
About 6 p.m., a woman who lived across from Tuhkanen’s girlfriend told police he was back inside the apartment.
Heffernan and three officers arrived at the apartment. The girlfriend “was pale, trembling, had watery eyes and could only whisper,” said the news release.
Police found him in a corner by a dresser in the bedroom. Two officers drew their Tasers. Heffernan drew his gun but pointed it down alongside his leg.
The officers ordered Tuhkanen to show his hands, but he did not fully comply. Instead, he removed his sweatshirt, moved his hands and lit a cigarette for himself.
“Throughout the confrontation, Tuhkanen was agitated and yelling,” the county attorney said.
Tuhkanen demanded to speak with his girlfriend, which police denied. He moved his hand in and out of his pocket, and Heffernan warned him that if he didn’t follow orders he could be shot.
“Instead, Tuhkanen crouched down, turned toward the dresser with a hand on his waistband and then made a jerking motion with his left hand,” the news release said. “He leaned into an area the officers couldn’t see and they all told investigators they thought Tuhkanen was going to pick up something from the area the officers couldn’t see.”
At 6:16 p.m., Heffernan fired four shots. Two rounds struck Tuhkanen in the torso and two struck his right arm.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office investigated the shooting.