Muted response to officer involved shooting lends itself to justice

On Wednesday evening 7/13/22, Minneapolis Police were called to an apartment building at 904 21st Ave So. on a report of a man, later identified as Andrew Tekle Sundberg, 20, shooting a gun in the building. When the police arrived, Sundberg began firing rounds through the wall and door of the apartment he was in. Officers worked to evacuate building residents while containing Sundberg in the apartment.  SWAT and Crisis Negotiators were called to the scene. 

Negotiations with Sundberg worked towards a peaceful surrender and included bringing Sundberg’s parents to the scene to communicate with him. Unfortunately for all involved approximately 6 hours into the standoff, for reasons that are not yet public, Sundberg was shot and later died at Hennepin Healthcare, HCMC.

KSTP quoted an anonymous witness as saying this of the police response:

“Every three to five minutes they announce, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you,’” the neighbor said of police. “They even brought in his family involved … they tried to talk to him … they did every precaution necessary.”

A check of Minnesota court records does not show a criminal history or civil commitment history for Sundberg, though this remains inconclusive. 

MPD has reported that two SWAT officers fired at Sundberg, and that the BCA is conducting the follow up investigation into the officer involved shooting. Sundberg was black, and the two officers are reportedly white.

KSTP has reported that the two of officers who fired were also on the SWAT detail that resulted in the officer involved shooting death of Amir Locke in February 2022, though neither officer fired rounds in the Locke case.

The case has elements that have in the recent past led to protest, and sadly to political pandering. Calm appears to be prevailing.

As of this morning there have been no comments by Governor Walz, Attorney General Ellison, Senators Klobuchar and Smith, or County Attorney Freeman. There have been no marches or protests announced by BLM or Communities Against Police Brutality. 

Mayor Frey made the following statement, which included recognizing the diligent work of the police: 

“This is not the outcome anyone wanted. Any loss of life is tragic, and my deepest condolences go out to the family of the individual involved. I also want to express my gratitude to the City staff, including MPD officers and crisis negotiators, who worked diligently throughout the night alongside the individual’s family members. All were working together to try and reach a peaceful resolution amid dangerous circumstances while keeping nearby residents safe.

“The City will continue working to share as much information as possible in these early hours and has turned the investigation over to the BCA.”

The muted and controlled response, up to this point, is a positive development — one that is more, not less likely to provide for actual justice. The calm will allow for a proper investigation without the undue political influence that has been a part of recent investigations.

Sundberg and his family deserve that, the public deserves that, and the officers who had to use deadly force to resolve the incident deserve that.

Officers don’t go to work hoping to use force, let alone deadly force. Officers who continue to answer calls for service not only risk their personal safety, but also put themselves at increasing risk of losing their livelihoods, getting criminally prosecuted, or worse. They deserve a calm, fair, impartial investigation, void of any political influence. They deserve due process.

Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the clear message coming from political leaders in recent years. Even when facts have been clear, many have failed to support officers in these extremely difficult situations. Case in point, Attorney General Ellison and Hennepin County Attorney Freeman issued a joint statement after determining the two officers in the Amir Locke case acted within the law. Their statement was simply inappropriate.

The role that County Attorney Freeman and I took on was to determine whether current law allows us to file criminal charges in Amir’s death. In doing so, we had to evaluate the all the evidence through Minnesota’s use-of-force law, which is rooted in a 33-year-old U.S. Supreme Court precedent called Graham vs. Connor.  

As we announced this morning, we have determined that under that precedent and the laws we have, we cannot file criminal charges. Current law only allows us to evaluate the case from the perspective of a reasonable officer. That language is from the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and relevant cases and statutes. We are not allowed to evaluate the case from the perspective of the victim. With all the available evidence, we would not be able to prove in court that the officer’s use of force was not authorized under the law beyond a reasonable doubt. It would be unethical for us to file charges in a case in which we know we will not prevail because the law does not support the charges.

And still, a loving, promising young man is dead. His death leaves us with a wound in our community that is small in comparison in comparison to the wound that his family is suffering from. Communities have been torn apart by trauma yet again. The life of a police officer has been changed forever as well. 

If the law does not allow us to file criminal charges in this case, what can we do — as policy makers, prosecutors, society, and community — to keep a death like Amir’s from happening again? 

We must support our police officers and reject political pandering and the undue political pressure that has permeated recent officer involved deadly force cases. True justice and a healthy criminal justice system depends on it.