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Duluth officer could face stiffer penalties as shooting trial looms

With Tyler Leibfried set to face a jury in January, a new prosecutor assigned to the case is looking to raise the stakes.

Tyler Leibfried.jpg
Tyler Leibfried
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A prosecutor will pursue an additional charge and increased sentence for a Duluth police officer who shot an unarmed man through the door of a downtown apartment last year.

Tyler Foster Leibfried, 29, of Hermantown, currently faces felony counts of reckless discharge of a firearm within a municipality and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety in the September 2020 incident that wounded Jared Fyle, 23.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Aaron Welch last week filed a motion to add a count of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon ahead of a trial set to begin in January .

Welch, an Iron Range-based prosecutor who assumed the case after the September retirement of County Attorney Mark Rubin, also indicated he would seek an above-guideline sentence if Leibfried is convicted, citing the fact that the alleged crime was "committed in a location in which the victim had an expectation of privacy."

PREVIOUSLY: Duluth police officer charged in shooting; victim still has bullet in his back The department is "immediately commencing an administrative investigation" into Officer Tyler Leibfried, who remains on paid leave.
"After a review of the entire file upon its reassignment, the state believes the aggravating factor … is justified by the facts and legally appropriate, and therefore should be allowed to be presented to the trier of fact," Welch wrote in a notice to the court.

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"This is especially true in the present case as the factors at play here are of high public concern in the present moment. The state asks this court, in the interests of justice, to help ensure that this defendant is treated exactly the same as any other defendant in a similar circumstance."

Welch indicated he will bring forward the motions at a pretrial hearing scheduled for Jan. 6. Judge Sally Tarnowski is set to preside over a four-day jury trial beginning Jan. 18.

The prosecutor argued Leibfried would not be unfairly prejudiced by the additional charge and aggravated sentence bid, as they rely on the same set of facts contained in the initial complaint filed in November 2020. But he suggested the trial date could be postponed if the defense asserts that additional time is necessary to prepare.

Leibfried's attorney, Paul Engh, is currently in another high-profile trial, representing former Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, police officer Kimberly Potter in the April shooting death of Daunte Wright.

Under state sentencing guidelines, a first-time offender convicted of second-degree assault could expect to have a 21-month prison term stayed in favor of probation. But the finding of aggravating factors would allow the court to impose up to the statutory maximum of seven years in prison.

Leibfried's two firearm charges carry five years and two years, respectively, but are also anticipated to result in probationary sentences for an offender lacking a criminal history.

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.

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Kingsley Heights Apartments in downtown Duluth is pictured Sept. 17, 2020. Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

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.

Body camera video shows Leibfried drawing his duty pistol and ducking into a small alcove while Lindsholm retreats down the hallway and around a corner. Leibfried, who could be heard yelling "shots fired" over the radio, waited approximately 10 seconds before firing an initial volley of four shots into the door.

Fyle, who remained inside the apartment, could then be heard screaming "Stop!" at least nine times, followed by an expression of "Ow!" Leibfried, after waiting 6 seconds, then fired an additional two rounds into the door as further screams were heard from Fyle and others in the building.

Leibfried then summoned medical attention for the victim and retreated down the hallway to his partner. Fyle was treated at a local hospital for his injuries, but it was determined that a bullet in the shoulder area could not be safely removed.

PREVIOUSLY: Judge upholds Duluth officer's shooting charges Tyler Leibfried will face a jury at a yet-undetermined date to decide if he was justified in shooting a man through an apartment door in response to what he believed to be gunshots.
The officers had not yet announced their presence when the banging noises were heard. Leibfried, an Army Reserves veteran, described the scene to investigators as a "fatal funnel" — a narrow passage that left little room for him and his partner to safely maneuver.

It is believed to be the first time an area law enforcement officer will stand trial for an on-duty shooting.

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Engh, who unsuccessfully sought to have the charges dismissed, has asserted that Leibfried acted within the "reasonable officer" standard established by the U.S. Supreme Court because he believed his life to be in danger.

Duluth police officials conducted an internal review of the incident and concluded that Leibfried, a five-year member of the department, had violated use-of-force policies and would remain "off duty immediately."

Leibfried has been on unpaid leave from the city since January , according to payroll records received by the News Tribune in response to a data request in April. City spokesperson Kate Van Daele confirmed Thursday that his "status has not changed."

Tom Olsen has covered crime and courts for the Duluth News Tribune since 2013. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Duluth and a lifelong resident of the city. Readers can contact Olsen at 218-723-5333 or tolsen@duluthnews.com.
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