No charges will be filed against two St. Paul police officers who fatally shot a 28-year-old man in the street after a domestic dispute in October 2017.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi's office made the decision after an investigation by the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) into the death of Phumee Lee. The decision means officers Daniel Gleason and Jordan Wild won't face criminal prosecution in the fatal encounter on Euclid Street in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood that was captured on their body cameras as well as on a resident's private security camera.
In a letter released Thursday, Choi agreed with the findings of two staff attorneys who wrote in a 15-page memo that there was "no question" the officers knew they were responding to a dangerous situation involving a suspect who had held a woman and children at gunpoint, threatened to kill them and had shot his weapon inside the home on Earl Street. Choi's letter condensed much of what was written in the memo written by John Kelly, first assistant Ramsey County attorney, and Richard Dusterhoft, director of the criminal division.
When officers encountered Lee on the sidewalk, they could be heard through body camera audio "repeatedly" ordering Lee to stop, the letter and memo said.
On the video, Lee stopped, turned and began walking toward the officers, raising his arms and reaching into his pocket with his right hand. Some officers sought cover behind trees. In the four body camera videos released with the BCA investigative file, officers can be seen running after Lee and yelling multiple times for him to "drop it" and "show us your hands."
"The video clearly shows a flash emanate from the object in Mr. Lee's right hand immediately before he falls onto the street," Choi wrote, adding that simultaneously or right before, Wild fired six rounds at Lee from his 12-gauge shotgun and Gleason fired 10 rounds from his AR-15 rifle, the memo said. A .38-caliber handgun was recovered 18 inches from Lee's hand on the ground, the memo said.
The investigation found three spent casings in the cylinder of the five-round gun. The lawyers reached the "irrefutable conclusion" that Lee had fired two rounds in his home and one at police.
No officers were hurt, but Gilly, a canine partner to another officer, suffered a torn paw either from a tear or gunshot. The dog was treated at the University of Minnesota's Veterinary Medical Center, the memo said.
Gleason and Wild were placed on three-day administrative leave, the standard policy, and have since returned to work.
Police Chief Todd Axtell issued a written statement Thursday, saying he's grateful the community now knows the truth about the shooting: "Lee's actions forced officers to protect themselves and others."
The chief said the incident shows how dangerous policing can be and that no one was celebrating Choi's decision. He also said, "Too often, in tragic situations like this, some people rush to judgment, come to conclusions not based on facts, and succumb to their emotions, which can sometimes interfere with reality."
Records show that Lee had a history of abusing the 28-year-old woman who called 911. He had attacked her in the past and was most recently jailed for allegedly driving drunk while in possession of a gun.
Jurors convicted Lee of felony domestic assault in 2013. He was sentenced to 15 months in prison, which was stayed for five years' probation. Lee pleaded guilty to misdemeanor domestic assault in two separate cases in 2009. His girlfriend told police in 2012 that he had previously been arrested for assaulting her and his ex-wife.
Gleason received a departmental Life Saving Award when he was one of five officers to rescue a suicidal man attempting to jump off the High Bridge above the Mississippi River in 2014. His partner, Wild, is a Navy veteran.
Lee's death was the most recent officer-involved shooting in St. Paul until William Hughes was shot early Sunday in his home in the Summit-University neighborhood.
Axtell and Mayor Melvin Carter have said they will release the body camera footage of the Hughes shooting within days. The BCA is handling the investigation.
Liz Xiong, a spokeswoman for the mayor, said Carter is finishing work on his budget speech and asked if he could comment on Friday.