Officer Tyler Leibfried had every right to open fire through the door of a downtown Duluth apartment the moment he heard what he believed to be gunshots coming from inside, a defense attorney said.
Leibfried's two felony firearm charges therefore must be dismissed for a lack of probable cause under the established legal standard for use of deadly force by police officers, Paul Engh wrote in a 20-page motion filed Monday in State District Court.
“Officer Leibfried was not required to scratch his head and ponder the alternatives," the Minneapolis attorney argued. "Once he heard those two shots, Officer Leibfried had no duty to wait for the individual inside to discontinue. … Nor was Officer Leibfried required to negotiate with an individual who he believed to have already fired shots at him and his partner.”
Leibfried, 28, of Hermantown, was charged in November with intentionally and recklessly discharging his firearm in the Sept. 12 shooting and wounding of 23-year-old Jared Fyle at the Kingsley Heights Apartments, 105 W. First St. It is believed he may be the first area officer to face charges for an on-duty shooting.
A five-year veteran of the Duluth Police Department, Leibfried was the first officer on the scene of a reported domestic disturbance. Court documents indicate that there was yelling heard from a third-floor apartment and that a woman, Fyle's girlfriend, had eventually left.
Leibfried and Officer Cory Lindsholm determined there was no cause for arrest, but went upstairs to try to assist the woman in retrieving some items, according to documents. As Leibfried approached the door, both officers said they heard what sounded like gunshots coming from the apartment.
A criminal complaint states that Leibfried, ducking into a small alcove, fired four shots in quick succession, striking Fyle in the back shoulder area. The victim cried out in pain and begged him to stop. But the officer, after pausing for approximately six seconds, fired two additional rounds, according to prosecutors.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension later determined that there were no firearms in Fyle's apartment and that the initial noises may have been from him forcibly shoving or kicking the door closed. Fyle was treated for his wounds and still has a bullet lodged in his body.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said he did not believe Leibfried's actions to meet the "objectively reasonable" standard that is applied to police shootings. In addition to body camera video, he cited a statement from fellow officer Lindsholm, who told the BCA that, while he believed shots had been fired by the suspect, he "wasn't going to start putting rounds into this apartment just on a guess."
Defense attorney Engh has experience successfully representing officers charged in high-profile shooting cases. He defended 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.
Engh, in the motion filed Monday, said the court must consider what was "knowable" to Leibfried in the moment — namely, that he believed he was taking fire.
Leibfried is said in court documents to have a military background, reportedly using the term "fatal funnel" to describe the narrow hallway that left little room for he and his partner to safely maneuver.
Engh said he also was on the scene of a January 2019 incident in which an armed suspect shot a Duluth police officer and killed a K-9 before taking his own life. After shooting Fyle, Leibfried reportedly told BCA investigators that has "been shot at before, and … it felt like that again."
"The complaint concedes that 'both officers heard two loud noises that could best be described as a bang or a firearm report sound seeming to come from inside apartment 301,'" Engh wrote in his dismissal motion. "With that concession, this prosecution has ended.”
Rubin, who is personally prosecuting the case, has until Jan. 25 to file a response in opposition.
Engh speculated that the county attorney will focus on the six-second delay before firing the final two rounds. He argued that is irrelevant, as the Supreme Court has held that "officers are taught to keep shooting until the threat is over."
Leibfried is charged with intentionally discharging a firearm under circumstances that endangered the safety of another and recklessly discharging a firearm within a municipality. Each count carries a statutory maximum of two years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The officer was placed on paid administrative leave after the shooting. After conducting an administrative review, police officials said in December that they determined Leibfried had violated use-of-force policies and would remain "off duty indefinitely."
The criminal case has been assigned to 6th Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski, who has scheduled a Feb. 18 hearing on the dismissal motion.