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Judge considers additional charge for Duluth officer who shot through door

The Jan. 18 trial date could be pushed back due to COVID-19 and to allow time to collect records.

Tyler Leibfried.jpg
Tyler Leibfried
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DULUTH — A judge is considering whether to approve a motion seeking an additional charge for a Duluth police officer who shot an unarmed man through the door of a downtown apartment in 2020.

If approved by Judge Sally Tarnowski, Tyler Foster Leibfried, 29, of Hermantown, would face a count of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon for the September 2020 incident that wounded Jared Fyle, 23.

Leibfried already faces felony counts of reckless discharge of a firearm within a municipality and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.

Assistant St. Louis County Attorney Aaron Welch filed the motion for the additional charge in late November after taking the case over from retired County Attorney Mark Rubin.

Welch had also said he would seek a higher-than-guideline sentence because the alleged crime occurred in Fyle's apartment, where he should be able to expect privacy.

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During a pretrial hearing held over videoconference Thursday afternoon, Welch said the additional charge and stiffer penalty were "very appropriate" because of "the fact that Mr. Fyle was in his home."

But Leibfried's attorney, Paul Engh, objected to the motion and said it should not have been filed when the trial date was already scheduled.

"It's too late in our view," Engh said, adding that it has been 16 months since the event.

Tarnowski did not make a decision on the motion, or any other motions, Thursday.

She did suggest the four-day jury trial, which is expected to begin Jan. 18, could be pushed back if she approves a motion filed by Engh requesting all of the incident complaint reports filed for the Kingsley Heights Apartments, 105 W. First St., where the incident took place on the night of Sept. 12, 2020.

Engh said he was hoping to use the documents, which record police responses to the address, to show the building "was an extremely dangerous place for police to be."

Collecting all of those would require significant amount of time, Welch said, and may require a later trial start date.

Additionally, Tarnowski said rising numbers of COVID-19 cases among jurors in other trials is making it difficult for other trials to take place.

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Tarnowski scheduled a settlement conference for Monday afternoon with the parties to go over those "logistics," and a questionnaire for potential jurors to gauge their opinions on policing issues in the case.

"We're going to need a pretty big (jury) pool," Tarnowski said, referring to COVID-19 and the nature of the case.

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 Kingsley Heights Apartments 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.

FILE: Kingsley Heights Apartments
Kingsley Heights Apartments at 105 W. First St. in Duluth. Steve Kuchera / 2020 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.

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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.

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.

The officers had not yet announced their presence when the banging noises were heard.

Engh has argued 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 had violated use-of-force policies and would remain "off duty immediately."

Leibfried has been on unpaid leave from the city since January .

Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at jlovrien@duluthnews.com or 218-723-5332.
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