The prosecution and defense offered their closing arguments Wednesday in the manslaughter trial of Washington County Deputy Brian Krook, with one calling him an “incredibly reckless” cowboy cop and the other saying he’s a hero who is “stone cold innocent.”
The jury took those two versions of Krook into deliberations along with evidence from the night of April 12, 2018, when Krook confronted and then fatally shot without warning an armed and suicidal man after lengthy negotiations.
The trial, which opened last week, hinged on the question of Krook’s perception of danger: Was he justified in shooting at a man who was kneeling in a public street while pointing a handgun at his own head and negotiating with another Washington County deputy?
State prosecutor Thomas B. Hatch argued that Krook was negligent throughout the confrontation with the suicidal man, Benjamin Evans, by not taking appropriate cover during the standoff and by failing to warn Evans or other deputies that he was about to use deadly force.
Hatch also impugned the statements of three deputies who testified during the trial, saying they changed their testimony to paint Krook in a more favorable light.
Krook’s defense attorneys, Kevin J. Short and Paul C. Engh, presented expert witnesses who said Krook was right to feel threatened by Evans, and would have been justified in shooting him even sooner than he did.
The shots killed Evans, 23, a Lake Elmo firefighter and EMT who was upset that his girlfriend had turned down his proposal. Evans wrote two suicide notes and drank heavily on the last day of his life, according to court documents.
The facts of the case are largely agreed upon: a 911 call about a suicidal man drew deputies to a Lake Elmo intersection where they found Evans.
In a video of the incident played in court, Evans refuses Deputy Joshua Ramirez’s commands to throw down his gun, though he does toss the gun’s magazine and a cellphone that he said was out of battery.
Evans, who can be heard shouting in the video, says he doesn’t intend to hurt the deputies or force them to shoot him.
He also says he wants to call his ex-girlfriend and praises the deputies for their efforts to de-escalate the crisis.
In the final minutes of the video, Evans can be seen turning back and forth in an apparent attempt to look down the street and behind him.
This movement, Krook later told investigators, unnerved him because Evans’ handgun would momentarily point at the deputy’s positions.
About 35 minutes into the 39-minute encounter, Krook says, “[Expletive], he does that again,” referring to Evans’ motions. And then a bit later: “Ramirez, I’m getting uncomfortable with him turning his head, just so you know,” Krook said.
Ramirez, who did not seem to respond to Krook, continued the negotiation.
Evans was in the middle of responding when Krook fired four shots. Several officers who were off-screen, including Krook and Ramirez, rushed over to Evans, who was slumped on his side, and ordered him to drop the gun.
“I’m kicking it,” Krook says, referring to the gun that Evans still had pointed at his head.
Evans’ arm then drops.
Krook, who prosecutors said was 2 to 3 feet from Evans at the time, took a few steps back and fired three more times. Evans was struck four times in all — twice in the chest, once in the side and once in the leg. No other deputies fired.
Krook said he fired the second volley because Evans’ gun pointed at the deputies when his arm moved.
In cross-examination, prosecutor Hatch accused Krook of creating a dangerous situation by rushing up to Evans while he was still armed. Expert witnesses for the prosecution said a more seasoned officer might have waited.
“You created this dangerous situation,” said Hatch.
“Mr. Evans created this situation,” Krook replied.
Krook didn’t warn Evans, but if he had, it would have sounded like a threat, and officers shouldn’t threaten a suicidal man, said Steve Ijames, an expert witness for the defense.
Ijames said a more seasoned officer might not have rushed in the way Krook did, but he said the prosecution was unfairly characterizing Krook’s actions.
In the split seconds after a shooting, officers don’t have the luxury of a lengthy deliberation, he said.
Ijames added that a 911 call like the Evans case, in which a suicidal man armed with a gun refuses commands to disarm, represents the “single most difficult call in policing today, no exception.”
Krook, in his own testimony, said he had no choice but to shoot.