A Duluth police officer acted with a "conscious disregard of the risk involved" when he fired multiple shots through the door of a downtown apartment last year, a prosecutor argued.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin asked a judge to uphold two felony charges against Tyler Leibfried for shooting and wounding 23-year-old Jared Fyle at the Kingsley Heights Apartments, 105 W. First St., on Sept. 12.
"This court has the evidence before it to conclude that there is probable cause that no objectively reasonable police officer would fire first four, then another two rounds, into a door, leading into an apartment, not knowing who or what was on the other side," Rubin wrote in a 24-page memorandum filed Monday in State District Court.
Leibfried, 28, of Hermantown, was charged in November with intentionally and recklessly discharging his firearm. It is believed to be the first time an area officer has been charged in an on-duty shooting.
Defense attorney Paul Engh earlier this month filed a motion to dismiss both counts, claiming that Leibfried's conduct was justified under the legal standard for use of deadly force by police officers. He asserted that Leibfried had the right to fire as soon as he heard what he believed to be gunshots coming from Fyle's apartment.
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 Rubin.
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.
In his brief, Rubin wrote that Leibfried didn't immediately start shooting when he heard the banging noises. Instead, he waited almost 10 seconds — enough time to see that there was no physical evidence of gunfire, the prosecutor said.
Rubin also scrutinized the decision to fire the final two shots after the victim could be heard yelling out in pain. He compared Leibfried's reaction to that of Lindsholm, who later told investigators he also believed shots were fired but "wasn't going to start putting rounds into this apartment just on a guess."
While acknowledging that police officers have "perhaps the most difficult and routinely dangerous job in our society," Rubin said Leibfried's conduct "was a gross deviation from the standard of care that a reasonable officer would have observed."
"We make no claim that there actions of the defendant were malicious or even made with the intent to harm someone; however, the use of deadly force is only allowed if the officer can show that it was reasonably necessary for him to conclude that he was in danger of death or great bodily harm," he wrote. "Very simply, the decision to shoot into the door many times and under the circumstances was one of poor judgment, fueled by fear, and was not an objective reasonable necessity."
Leibfried stated in an interview with Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators that he had been in the Army Reserves and was in the process of becoming a Green Beret. He used the military term "fatal funnel" to describe the narrow hallway that left little room for he and his partner to safely maneuver.
Leibfried also was on scene of a January 2019 incident in which a fellow officer was shot and a police K-9 was killed. According to documents, he told BCA investigators in September that "I've been shot at before, and ... it felt like that again."
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."
Sixth Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski is expected to rule on the defense's motion to dismiss the case at some point after hearing oral arguments Feb. 18.