STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota sheriff’s deputy was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter Thursday in the 2018 fatal shooting of a suicidal man who held a gun to his own head as he knelt in the street during a 40-minute standoff with police.
Prosecutors said Washington County Sheriff’s Deputy Brian Krook acted with culpable negligence and created an unreasonable risk when he shot 23-year-old Benjamin Evans on April 12, 2018. Defense attorneys argued that Evans, an emergency medical technician and probationary firefighter, wanted to die and knew that he would live if he just put down his weapon.
Minnesota Public Radio News reported that the jury reached its verdict after deliberating for a total of seven hours.
Benjamin Evans’ parents, Bill Evans and Kim Porter, said the verdict left them “devastated,” and they worry about the message the verdict sends — “that the police can shoot people whom they are called upon to help,” the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.
“Brian Krook took an oath to protect and serve. He did neither for our son,” Evans’ parents said in a statement.
Krook’s attorney, Kevin Short, said he took “great umbrage” at a prosecutor’s allegation in closing arguments that three of Krook’s colleagues in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office lied on the witness stand when they gave testimony at trial that differed from what they told the grand jury that indicted Krook, the Star Tribune reported.
Krook has been on paid leave since his indictment. The sheriff’s department said Thursday that he “is back to full duty and will return when he is ready.”
Krook testified that he feels horrible about shooting Evans, but that he had no choice because his life and the lives of other officers were threatened. Krook said he felt threatened even though Evans said repeatedly that he didn’t want to hurt officers.
“People say that to give you a false sense of security. It’s not reassurance for me,” Krook said. While Evans had been holding the gun to his own head, Krook, 32, said, “Bullets don’t just stop after they go through someone.”
Krook was among officers who responded to a report of a suicidal armed man in Lake Elmo, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) northeast of Minneapolis. Deputies found Evans kneeling in an intersection, with a gun to his head, according to court testimony.
Evans had moved from St. Louis to Minnesota to be with his girlfriend, and she had recently broken up with him and he lost his job. On the night of April 11, 2018, after his ex-girlfriend rejected his pleas to get married, he put on his firefighter dress uniform, wrote two suicide notes, then left his house with his gun, according to witness testimony.
Prosecutors said that Evans never aimed his gun at anyone but himself. But defense attorneys said Krook was uncomfortable with the way Evans was turning his his head, fearing if Evans fired his gun, the bullet’s trajectory might hit officers.
An enhanced version of squad car video and audio from body cameras played at trial showed Evans kneeling in the street, with his right hand holding the gun to his head. At times, he quickly twisted his torso and moved his head to the left and right. A deputy can be heard pleading with Evans repeatedly to drop his gun.
As Evans turned his head quickly from side to side, Krook was heard saying: “I’m getting uncomfortable with him turning his head, just so you know.” Moments later, as Evans was talking, Krook fired four rounds, hitting Evans once. He then ran toward Evans and fired three more times.
Evans was ultimately shot twice in the chest, once in the side, and once in the leg.
Krook is the third Minnesota officer in recent years to be charged in an on-duty killing. Former St. Anthony officerJeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the July 2016 killing of Philando Castile, and former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor was convicted in the July 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.