STILLWATER, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot an unarmed suicidal man in 2018 used unreasonable force on a man in crisis, prosecutors argued Wednesday at the outset of his trial.
Washington County deputy Brian Krook ignored the law and his training when he killed Benjamin Evans, a 23-year-old emergency medical technician and aspiring fighter who was in crisis, Ramsey County prosecutor Andrew Johnson said during his opening statement.
“Mr. Evans needed help that day, and this is not the way law enforcement is supposed to respond,” Johnson said.
Defense attorney Paul Engh, though, told jurors that Evans saw his life unraveling and had decided to kill himself, but couldn’t bring himself to do it and refused police orders to put down his gun.
“This was a suicide by cop,” he said, later adding: “It’s a tragedy that he died. It is not a crime that he caused his own death.”
Krook, 31, pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Evans. He was among officers who responded to a report of a suicidal armed man in Lake Elmo, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) northeast of Minneapolis. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has said that when officers arrived, Evans was holding a gun and saying he wanted to kill himself.
Evans had moved from St. Louis to Minnesota to be with his girlfriend, and she had recently broken up with him and he had lost his job. On the morning of April 11, 2018, he got a text from a friend who said he was cutting off all social media contact because he was dating Evans’ ex-girlfriend, whom Evans had wanted to marry, according to attorney statements and witnesses Wednesday.
Evans called another friend, Brianna Gysbers, and the two of them hung out all day, drank alcohol, and were at Evans’ apartment that night when Evans called his ex-girlfriend to try to convince her to marry him.
When she refused, he put on his firefighter dress uniform, sat down and wrote a goodbye note to his parents and to the first responders who would find him, called a friend to say goodbye, and then left his house with his gun, Gysbers testified.
Gysbers testified that Evans never said he wanted to shoot police. “He only wanted to hurt himself,” she said. She went to a neighbor’s apartment and called 911.
Nine officers responded, and tried to negotiate with Evans for 39 minutes as he knelt on the ground with his gun to his head. Johnson said that Evans never aimed the gun at anyone else.
But Engh said Krook was uncomfortable with Evans turning his head, fearing that if Evans fired even with the gun at his head, the bullet might hit officers.
Johnson said Krook fired four times, hitting Evans once. He ran toward Evans, who was on his side with his gun still to his head, intending to kick the gun away; when Evans’ arm fell to the ground, Krook fired three more times.
Evans was shot twice in the chest, once in the side, and once in the leg.
Johnson said that before Krook shot Evans, negotiations had been going well and Evans had repeatedly said he was not going to harm the deputies. A deputy got Evans to remove the magazine from his gun, leaving just one bullet in the chamber, and when Evans said at one point that he was going to kill himself in two minutes, a deputy talked him out of it, the prosecutor said.
Engh, though, pushed back on the idea that negotiations had been going well. He said Evans’ life was unraveling and that he had been drinking to build up the courage to end his life.
“No one was going to talk him out of it,” Engh said.
Evidence in the case is expected to include squad car video and video from Krook’s body camera. Potential witnesses include Evans’ father, several law enforcement experts, sheriff’s deputies who were at the standoff, and others. Engh said Krook plans to testify in his defense.
Evans is the third Minnesota officer in recent years to be charged in an on-duty killing. Former St. Anthony officer Jeronimo 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.