STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota sheriff’s deputy pleaded not guilty Wednesday to manslaughter in the 2018 shooting death of an apparently suicidal 23-year-old man, in a brief hearing that gave no new details on the circumstances of the shooting.
Brian Krook, 31, wore a dark suit and said little in a courtroom that was filled with police and deputies in apparent support. He was freed without bail after agreeing to surrender his passport.
Krook was among officers responding to a report of a suicidal man with a gun in Lake Elmo, about 19 miles (31 kilometers) northeast of Minneapolis in April 2018. The encounter left Benjamin Evans, 23, an emergency medical technician who aspired to be a firefighter, dead.
According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which investigated the shooting, Evans was holding a gun and told officers he wanted to kill himself. Officers tried to persuade Evans to put down the gun. At one point, Krook fired his gun, striking Evans multiple times. Deputies provided medical aid, but Evans was pronounced dead at a hospital.
Krook’s attorney, Kevin Short, said in a statement that Krook followed his training to use deadly force when his life and other officers’ lives were in danger.
Krook’s indictment was cloaked by the secrecy of a grand jury proceeding until Friday, when it leaked out in what Sherburne County Judge Mary Junker called an error of the court in apologizing to Krook. The two-page indictment charges Krook with second-degree manslaughter, saying he “created an unreasonable risk, and consciously took the chance of causing death or great bodily harm to another.” It gave no other details.
Krook is just the third Minnesota law officer to be charged in an on-duty killing in recent years. St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of manslaughter after fatally shooting Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop. Minneapolis police officer Mohamed Noor was charged and convicted this year of third-degree murder in the 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
An attorney hired by Evans’ family, Pete Sandberg of Rochester, Minnesota, told The Associated Press on Wednesday that Evans’ criminal history “reads like a blank sheet of paper” and that Evans “was not struggling with any mental illness.”
“It sure looks like to us there was an excessive use of force here,” Sandberg said. “We don’t know what happened here.”
Evans’ parents, Bill Evans and Kim Porter, said in a statement posted on Facebook by Sandberg’s law firm that their son “came from a military family and dreamed of a life of service.”
Benjamin Evans’ father was a firefighter, the statement said, so his son “followed in his footsteps and finished his Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) class before his eighteenth birthday.” The parents said their son enlisted in the Air Force, but “a knee injury prevented him from serving his country so he came to Minnesota to serve the community as an EMT Firefighter.”
“He cherished the uniform and all the public servants who wore it; his job was to save lives. It is incomprehensible that his life should be taken when he needed a public servant to save him,” the parents’ statement said. “He was an extraordinary young man who loved life, his family, his fellow man and his country.”
Survivors include Evans’ 3-year-old daughter.
The BCA recovered a handgun from near Evans’ body. A law enforcement beanbag shotgun also was found at the scene but did not appear to have been fired, according to the agency. Body cameras and dashboard cameras captured parts of the confrontation.
Krook, an eight-year veteran of the sheriff’s office at the time of the shooting, was briefly placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting, returned to duty and then was put back on paid administrative leave on Monday.
Krook and a fellow deputy received a lifesaving award for reviving someone in Lake Elmo who was unconscious and not breathing on Christmas Day 2012, the Star Tribune reported. Washington County officials said the only disciplinary note in Krook’s file was for working too many hours in a 24-hour period in 2016.
On Monday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington announced they are launching a working group and public hearings on police-involved shootings.