Judge approves Duluth officer's assault charge; trial rescheduled for April
Tyler Leibfried and his attorney will also gain access to the alleged crime scene and the history of police responses to the property, among other records.
DULUTH — A police officer will face a felony assault charge for shooting an unarmed man through the door of a downtown apartment, but his trial has been pushed back to April.
Tyler Foster Leibfried, 29, was set to face a jury next week in the September 2020 incident that wounded Jared Fyle at the Kingsley Heights Apartments. But Judge Sally Tarnowski granted several pretrial motions following a hearing last week, resulting in additional work that needs to be completed before the case is ready for trial.
The judge also noted at a brief, in-person hearing Monday that jury trials across the 6th Judicial District have been "impacted significantly" in recent weeks by the latest wave of COVID-19.
St. Louis County prosecutor Aaron Welch and defense attorney Paul Engh did not have any objections to the postponement. Tarnowski rescheduled the four-day trial to begin April 19.
The judge on Friday afternoon granted Welch's request to add a count of second-degree assault, which could prove significantly more serious than his original two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm within a municipality and intentional discharge of a firearm that endangers safety.
Tarnowski wrote that the "amended complaint's statement of probable cause has not been altered and is the same as that included in the original complaint in this matter," while noting that Leibfried maintains the right to file a motion seeking its dismissal.
Likewise, Tarnowski said the state could pursue an above-guideline sentence if Leibfried is convicted. That motion is based on the alleged crime occurring within the victim's "zone of privacy" — a detail the judge said "has been plain to the parties since the inception of the case."
The motions were brought in November by Welch, an Iron Range prosecutor who took over the case following the retirement of St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin. Engh contended it was improper to alter the case so late in the process, but Tarnowski ruled that the motions were appropriate given the change of prosecutors and said a continuance would allow Leibfried time to prepare.
The judge also granted several defense motions, including the potentially burdensome request for the prosecution to turn over copies of all incident reports stemming from Kingsley Heights over a period of three years. Engh said he hoped to use those reports to show the building "was an extremely dangerous place for police to be."
Tarnowski said Leibfried and his attorney will be granted access to inspect and photograph the interior of the building, 105 W. First St., without entering any residential units.
The judge also granted defense requests to obtain any information regarding domestic incidents, intoxication or drug use involving Fyle on the night of the shooting, along with evidence of his "possession and use of a hatchet next to the outer doorway of his apartment as well as any information regarding the cause of holes in the outer doorway of Mr. Fyle's apartment."
According to court documents, Leibfried and fellow officer Cory Lindsholm were called to the apartment complex on the night of Sept. 12, 2020, 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.
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, then 23, 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." Records show that the city stopped pay him in January 2021.
State sentencing guidelines would call for a probationary sentence for a first-time offender in Leibfried's case, but a finding of aggravated factors would allow the prosecution to seek up to the statutory maximum. He faces seven years on the assault charge, with the firearm violations carrying five years and two years, respectively.