A Duluth police officer has been charged with two felonies after shooting an unarmed man through the door of a downtown apartment in September.
Officer Tyler Leibfried fired six shots after hearing what he mistook as gunfire while responding to a domestic disturbance call at the Kingsley Heights Apartments, 105 W. First St., on the night of Sept. 12, according to a criminal complaint.
Prosecutors said Leibfried fired four rounds in quick succession, paused for approximately six seconds and then quickly discharged the final two shots. A fellow officer on scene later told investigators he also thought he had heard gunfire but didn't shoot because "I wasn't going to start putting rounds into this apartment just on a guess."
Struck and wounded inside the apartment was 23-year-old Jared Fyle, who required emergency treatment and is still living with a bullet lodged in his back. Authorities said no firearms were located in Fyle's possession, and the noise may have been from the victim closing and locking the apartment door.
Leibfried, 28, has been summoned to appear in State District Court on Dec. 16 to face charges of intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers the safety of another and reckless discharge of a firearm in a municipality. Each count carries a maximum of two years in prison.
A five-year veteran of the Duluth police force, Leibfried remained on paid leave Monday, but officials said they expect to conclude an internal investigation by next week.
Rare prosecution draws mixed reactions
The charging decision was announced by St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin after an investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Rubin said he received consultation from retired prosecutor Vern Swanum, who has frequently been called upon to review officer shooting cases.
"I reached the same conclusion as Mr. Swanum did," Rubin said in a statement. "Mainly, that Tyler Leibfried’s conduct fails the 'objective reasonable officer' standard and that it was not an objectively reasonable use of deadly force."
It appears to be the first time a Duluth officer has been charged over an on-duty use of force incident since officer Richard Jouppi was cited for striking an intoxicated man in a wheelchair in September 2012. He was later acquitted of assault charges, but terminated by the department. It's unclear whether a Duluth officer has ever previously been charged for a shooting.
Fyle's attorney, Andrew Poole, said he and his client were thankful that prosecutors have "taken this step towards holding Officer Leibfried accountable for his criminal behavior." But he said they don't believe the "charged crimes adequately address the act of purposefully shooting at an unarmed person through a closed door."
"In a nation devastated by the deaths and injuries of so many unarmed citizens shot and injured or killed by excessive police force, today is a stark reminder that we in northern Minnesota are not spared from police misconduct or brutality," Poole said.
"As we stated in September, Mr. Fyle is fortunate to be alive and continues to recover from his gunshot wounds. He nonetheless continues to hope that this incident will further our collective conversation regarding appropriate police response, training and reform."
Leibfried has retained Minneapolis attorney Paul Engh, who frequently represents officers through the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association Legal Defense Fund.
Engh successfully represented Jeronimo Yanez, the Twin Cities officer who fatally shot Philando Castille during a traffic stop in 2016, as well as a Washington County deputy who fatally shot a suicidal man in 2018.
“It’s regrettable that Officer Leibfried has been charged," Engh told the News Tribune. "He should not have been. We look forward to the jury trial.”
Details emerge from criminal complaint
Leibfried was the first officer to respond to the report of a possible physical domestic assault at the apartment building shortly before 9:30 p.m. on the night of the shooting. According to the complaint, a woman was heard yelling something to the effect of "get off me," and a caller reported that it sounded as though she wasn't being allowed to leave a third-floor apartment.
The officer was met in the lobby area by the woman, who didn't appear injured. She said she had gotten into an argument with her boyfriend, Fyle, but emphasized that she was not hurt and simply wanted to retrieve some belongings, the complaint states.
Officer Cory Lindsholm arrived on scene and determined with Leibfried that there was not probable cause for arrest. Treating it as a civil matter, they said they would help the woman retrieve some items and dissuaded her from accompanying them to the apartment.
The officers went upstairs. As Leibfried was about to knock on Fyle's door, both "heard two loud noises that could best be described as a bang or a firearm (discharge)," according to the complaint. The officers, who had body cameras activated, had not yet announced their presence.
According to the complaint, Leibfried ducked into an alcove, radioed "shots fired" and pulled out his duty pistol. He allegedly waited an undisclosed amount of time and then "fired four fast rounds from his pistol into the doorway," despite there being no physical evidence that shots had been fired from that direction.
The officer then heard a voice yell, "Stop, stop, stop!" and "Stop, please stop. Ow." The complaint states Leibfried did not respond, waiting approximately six seconds to fire two more rounds into the same area of the door.
"Immediately after this second burst of shots, the voice from inside continued (to) yell again, 'Stop, stop, please stop,' 'I've been shot, please stop,' and "Open the door,'" according to the complaint.
Leibfried told dispatch to send medical treatment, while Lindsholm could be heard shouting his fellow officer's name and directing him to retreat to a more secure location. Lindsholm, who was back at a distance, did not fire any shots.
Additional officers arrived on scene, giving Fyle directions to open the door and come out of the apartment. He was bleeding from the back due to a gunshot wound and was taken to a local hospital, where he was treated and released that night.
Due to high risk involved in surgery, a bullet remains lodged in Fyle's right shoulder area, Rubin said in a news release accompanying his charging decision.
Officer said he heard, 'felt' shots
Inside Fyle's apartment, "officers did not find any evidence whatsoever of a firearm or ammunition, other than (Liebfried's) bullets and evidence of their impact," the complaint states.
In a statement to the BCA a few hours after the shooting, Fyle said he had gotten into an argument with his girlfriend and she left. About 20 minutes later, he said, he went to the apartment door to lock it. He did not know anyone was in the hallway and he "kicked at the door to make sure it was completely closed" before locking the deadbolt.
Fyle told investigators he turned around and suddenly heard someone in the hallway yell "shots fired" right before he was struck by gunfire, causing him to fall to the ground. Fyle said he does not own any firearms.
Leibfried was interviewed by the BCA on Sept. 15, three days after the incident. He stated that he had gone to the apartment to speak with Fyle and retrieve some of the woman's belongings.
Leibfried allegedly stated that the narrow hallway made him nervous, relating it to a "fatal funnel" concept from his military training. As he was getting ready to knock, he stated that he heard two loud noises that sounded like gunfire and "felt" two shots come through the door.
"He said he did not know if his partner had been hit and was concerned that if he retreated back down the hall he would place himself into a line of fire," the complaint states.
Leibfried estimated that he fired five or six shots, saying he did so "because he was sure he had taken gunfire from inside the apartment." He said he did not have time to announce himself as a police officer and admitted that he retreated down the hallway once he heard the victim shouting that he had been shot, according to the complaint.
Lindsholm, in his interview with the BCA, reportedly confirmed many of the details of the incident. He stated he heard four shots, followed by someone hollering, "I got shot," and then two additional shots.
Asked why he did not discharge his weapon despite believing they were under fire, Lindsholm reportedly responded: "I didn't know for sure where the shots came from, so I wasn't going to start putting rounds into this apartment just on a guess."
Attorney calls for release of video
Poole, the victim's attorney, has been critical not only of the shooting incident, but also of the subsequent investigation. He did not rule out the possibility of a lawsuit.
"We remain particularly disturbed by the lack of any transparency exhibited by the city of Duluth, who thus far has refused to release any meaningful documentation concerning the shooting, and has failed to release officer body camera footage of the shooting," he said.
"Such actions do little to further our collective hope for a country which treats all communities with dignity and respect, where citizens can feel safe in interacting with police officers, and where police use only the degree of force necessary to maintain community safety."
Video footage and other evidence typically isn't released publicly by law enforcement agencies prior to trial or a formal decision not to file charges — though authorities do have the discretion to release video of high-profile incidents.
Because the BCA is called upon to handle investigations of officer shootings, the Duluth Police Department said it hasn't had access to all the evidence prior to Monday.
"With the criminal charges today, the Duluth Police Department will have access to the full investigation for the first time," the agency said in a statement. "The Duluth Police Department is immediately commencing an administrative investigation and anticipate our findings in the next 7-10 days. Officer Leibfried will remain on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the administrative investigation."
As the case heads to court, Sgt. Dan Boese, president of the Duluth Police Union, said the public should consider the U.S. Supreme Court precedent that requires an officer's use of force "be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."
“Officer Leibfried is a dedicated police officer who serves the Duluth community with compassion and pride," Boese said in a statement. "The Duluth Police Union continues to support Officer Leibfried through the due process of the internal investigation being conducted by the Duluth Police Department. We have not seen all of the details of the investigation and it would be premature to comment on the incident itself.”
This story was updated several times with additional information and comments. The final version was published at 5:45 p.m. Nov 30. The initial version was posted at 12:36 p.m. Nov. 30.