There is sufficient cause for a Duluth police officer to stand trial on felony firearm charges stemming from the shooting of an unarmed man through the door of a downtown apartment, a judge ruled Monday.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski denied Tyler Foster Leibfried's motion to dismiss counts of intentionally and recklessly discharging a firearm in the September incident that left 23-year-old Jared Fyle with a bullet lodged in his back.
Defense attorney Paul Engh filed a motion for dismissal in January, claiming Leibfried was justified in responding to a perceived threat under the established legal standard for use of deadly force by a police officer. But St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin argued the officer exhibited "poor judgment" and did not act reasonably in shooting through the door out of fear.
Tarnowski heard oral arguments on the motion at a virtual hearing on Feb. 18, questioning the duration of time Leibfried waited between hearing what he believed to be gunshots and responding with his own service weapon.
According to documents filed in State District Court, Leibfried and fellow officer Cory Lindsholm were called to the Kingsley Heights Apartments, 105 W. First St., on the night of Sept. 12 for a possible domestic disturbance. They determined there was no cause for an arrest, but headed up to Fyle's third-floor unit to help retrieve some belongings for his girlfriend.
Both officers later told Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators that they heard two gunshot-like noises, which were later determined to have likely been from Fyle forcibly shoving or kicking the door closed.
Engh asserted that Leibfried, 29, of Hermantown, was justified under the U.S. Supreme Court's "reasonable officer standard" in firing as soon as he heard the bangs and believed his life to be in danger. Leibfried, who served in the Army Reserves, used the military term "fatal funnel" to describe the narrow hallway that left little room for him and his partner to safely maneuver.
Engh, who frequently represents Minnesota officers charged with excessive force, called the situation "extraordinarily dangerous" and compared it to the 1990 fatal shooting of Duluth police Sgt. Gary Wilson at the Seaway Hotel.
Rubin said there "might have been an argument" had Leibfired fired the moment he heard the banging noises, but the prosecutor focused in on the fact that the officer waited approximately 10 seconds to start firing — enough time, he said, to assess the situation and see that no one had fired through the wall.
After firing the first volley, Rubin said, Leibfried paused another 6 seconds, heard Fyle scream out in pain, and then fired two additional rounds into the apartment. Rubin also cited the statement of Lindsholm, who told investigators that he didn't fire because "I wasn't going to start putting rounds into this apartment just on a guess."
Rubin, a prosecutor for more than 40 years, said he "can't think of any job that is more dangerous than a police officer." But he argued the case — believed to be the first time an area officer has been charged with an on-duty shooting — fell outside the scope of "objectively reasonable."
In denying the motion, not guilty pleas were entered on Leibfried's behalf. Tarnowski scheduled a settlement conference for April 15; a jury trial date has not been set.
Each of the charges carry a statutory maximum of two years in prison, with probation expected for a first-time offender.
Police officials determined that Leibfried, a five-year veteran, violated use-of-force policies and said he would remain "off duty indefinitely." City officials have repeatedly denied to say whether is still being paid, though they acknowledged in response to a data request in late January that Leibfried remained employed.
Leibfried, who earned a gross salary of $84,938 in 2020, had been disciplined by his department on three prior occasions, according to the personnel records obtained by the News Tribune.
In late 2016, he was docked 12 hours of vacation time and received a six-month extension of his probationary period when he crashed his squad car after driving "in excess of 70 (mph)" down First Street in the downtown and East Hillside area.
He also received letters of reprimand for a "vehicle use/operation/care" violation in August 2017 and an "unintentional discharge" of his patrol rifle in November 2017.