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Officers ruled justified in killing of Duluth standoff suspect who fatally shot K-9

The fatal shooting came at the conclusion of a roughly 20-hour standoff that started with a domestic abuse report.

FILE: Duluth standoff Feb. 26, 2021
Law enforcement officers stage behind a large armored vehicle during a standoff on the 2300 block of West Fourth Street in Duluth on Feb. 26, 2021. Clint Austin / File / News Tribune
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Members of the Duluth Police Department and St. Louis County Sheriff's Office were justified in using deadly force on a 37-year-old man who fatally shot a police dog and barricaded himself inside a Lincoln Park residence for nearly 20 hours in February, St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said Thursday.

David "Pogo" Joseph Wayne Conwell was shot by deputies after killing Duluth K-9 Luna and exchanging gunfire with officers at the home on the 2300 block of West Fourth Street.

Sgt. Ben Fye and Sgt. Miles Bruggman, both of the sheriff's Emergency Response Team, fired at Conwell as he held a sawed-off shotgun and refused to comply with orders at the end of the prolonged standoff Feb. 26, according to Rubin's report. Conwell was determined to have died from multiple gunshot wounds.

David Conwell
David "Pogo" Joseph Wayne Conwell was shot and killed by deputies after a 20-hour standoff in Duluth's Lincoln Park neighborhood on Feb. 26, 2021. Contributed / Family of David Conwell

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Four Duluth police officers, Ian Johnson, Logan Goss, Dean Bauers and Sgt. Mike Erickson, earlier fired at Cornwell inside the home during two attempts to apprehend him after the dog's killing, according to the report. But none of their shots struck Conwell.

Police said the incident started when Conwell refused to surrender as officers attempted to arrest him on felony warrants after they responded to a third-party report of domestic abuse at the residence.

PREVIOUSLY: BCA: Duluth standoff suspect twice shot at officers, was killed after pointing gun at deputies Duluth police officers twice entered the Lincoln Park residence and were met with gunfire before St. Louis County deputies killed David Conwell, after removing a portion of the home's exterior wall, state investigators reported.
A 14-page report released by Rubin details efforts to resolve the standoff, including verbal negotiations and the deployment of chemical irritants and a robot into the residence. Conwell, who was said to be threatening suicide and insisting he would not go back to prison, was eventually killed after officers blew a hole in the side of the house and he finally emerged, still armed.

"The officers involved in this 19-hour standoff/encounter demonstrated remarkable restraint, courage and respect for the sanctity of life in their efforts to execute the outstanding felony warrants and take David Conwell into custody after he killed K-9 Officer Luna," Rubin wrote.

The county attorney concluded that all force used by officers was "objectively reasonable, justified and authorized by law," adding: "Our sympathies go out to the family of Mr. Conwell and also to the law enforcement officers and their families. There is no denying the tragedy in situations such as this."

FILE: K-9 Luna
Duluth police officer Aaron Haller praises his then-newly trained dog, Luna, on June 12, 2019. Luna was Haller's second K-9 to be killed in the line of duty, after Haas. Ellen Schmidt / File / Duluth News Tribune

According to Rubin's report:

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The incident started at approximately 8:30 p.m. Feb. 25, when a 911 caller reported that "David," a methamphetamine user who carried knives and possibly a gun, was in the duplex at 2320 W. Fourth St. and assaulting his girlfriend. Officers encountered the woman, who was upset about their presence and left the scene.

Learning Conwell had active warrants for multiple cases involving assault, threats of violence and violating of a domestic abuse no-contact order, police went into the apartment and announced their presence.

Officers found Conwell hiding under clothes inside a closet, where it appeared he was holding a gun. He ignored commands to show his hands, so K-9 handler Aaron Haller deployed Luna into the closet. Officers then heard a "pop" and the 3-year-old Dutch shepherd dropped, requiring her to be dragged out of the residence.

FILE: Duluth standoff Feb. 26, 2021
Law enforcement officers in tactical gear stage behind a squad car during a standoff on the 2300 block of West Fourth Street on Feb. 26, 2021. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

PREVIOUSLY: Law enforcement, community honor second Duluth police dog killed on duty

Johnson fired three times toward the closet as officers retreated, continuing to issue verbal commands for Conwell to drop the gun. Conwell reportedly responded with profanity, said the officers "ruined his night" and that his "life was over."

Officers were in the front entry area when Conwell emerged and fired a shot in their direction, prompting Goss to return one round. Erickson, hearing gunshots and seeing debris, fired three shots in the suspect's direction.

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Officers retreated out to the street and Conwell fired an additional shot out the front window. The department's Tactical Response Team was summoned, deploying several chemical irritant canisters over the next several hours. Conwell initially could be heard coughing but then showed no major signs of discomfort.

After several hours of not seeing or hearing any activity in the house, tactical team members made entry and encountered Conwell in a bedroom, where he had flipped a mattress up against the doorway. He raised the shotgun in the direction of Bauers, who responded by firing two shots, and officers again left the house.

FILE: Duluth standoff Feb. 26, 2021
One of many broken windows seen during a standoff on the 2300 block of West Fourth Street in Duluth on Feb. 26, 2021. Law enforcement deployed flash bang munitions and tear gas in many of the windows in the residence. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Around 7 a.m., the sheriff's office assumed command. In addition to ongoing chemical irritants, members sent in a robotic device equipped with a camera and microphone. Conwell was discovered hiding in a large cardboard box before fleeing to a bathroom as the robot followed.

Deputy Jason Kuhnly, who was operating the robot, saw that Conwell was still carrying the sawed-off shotgun and heard him threaten to kill himself. The suspect said he "was not going back to prison" and told officers to kill him. Kuhnly was able to communicate with him for roughly 35 minutes, as the gas continued to have "little to no effect."

PREVIOUSLY: Domestic abuse suspect shot, killed, following standoff in Lincoln Park After a 20-hour standoff and the shooting death of a Duluth Police K-9, police moved in on the armed suspect.
As the standoff continued through the day, Conwell went to a closet in the lower-level unit, and officers utilized an "explosive breaching device" to knock in a hole in the exterior wall in an effort to deploy more gas.

Conwell apparently crawled through the hole as the scene was obscured with "thick smoke." Kuhnly gave him commands to show his hands and attempted to reengage in conversation, but the suspect remained adamant about not going back to prison.

022721.N.DNT.STANDOFF.C21.jpg
The BCA Crime Scene Team arrives after a standoff on the 2300 block of West Fourth Street in Duluth ended with a suspect being fatally shot on Feb. 26, 2021. Duluth Police Department K-9 Luna was killed by a gunshot earlier in the incident. Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

Fye and Bruggman, armed with rifles and taking shelter behind a device known as a "ballistic blanket," each fired multiple rounds, striking Conwell as he went around the corner to the front porch. In later statements to investigators, the deputies stated that they were in fear, with Conwell showing no signs of a willingness to surrender after earlier firing at officers.

Conwell was pronounced dead at the scene; an autopsy later confirmed he had meth in his system.

The investigation was conducted by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and submitted to Rubin for legal review last month.

This story was updated at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 5 with additional information from Mark Rubin's report. It was originally posted at 2:50 p.m. Aug. 5.

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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