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Police: Attack prompted use of force

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has completed its investigation into whether an Eden Prairie, Minn., police officer was justified in using deadly force in shooting a former Duluth man, who died on Christmas Eve.

The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office has completed its investigation into whether an Eden Prairie, Minn., police officer was justified in using deadly force in shooting a former Duluth man, who died on Christmas Eve.

Joseph Tyler Azuz, 24, a 2000 Duluth Central graduate who had been living in Eden Prairie, was shot by a police officer at his father's apartment Dec. 4 after attacking officers with the metal shaft of a golf club.

"The officers appeared to have followed all proper procedures and regulations," Julie Anderson, information officer for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office, said Wednesday night. "We will present our findings to the county attorney, who will then determine if a grand jury will be convened [to determine if the use of deadly force was justified.]"

Joyce Lorenz, communications manager for the city of Eden Prairie, said police officers responded to a call of a suicidal man who reportedly was threatening to kill himself.

Eden Prairie police said Azuz charged officers and assaulted Sgt. Chris Wood and attempted to assault other officers. Officer Patrick Kenyon then shot Azuz in the torso.

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Following department policy, Kenyon was placed on paid administrative leave while the incident was investigated by the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

Anderson said Azuz attacked officers with a sharpened golf club shaft.

Pamela Azuz of Duluth said her son had struggled with mental illness. She said Wednesday that her son graduated from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse and had worked as a car salesman in Milwaukee. "And everybody there loved him," she said.

"Dealing with mental illness is a horrible thing for families to deal with," she said. "I think it affects more families than anybody wants to admit. My son was a good man. He had a good heart and he was loved by many people. Mentally, what he dealt with was torment, but for him to die at the hands of someone else was unnecessary and terribly tragic."

The dead man's mother said that if police had been equipped with a Taser gun, her son would still be alive.

"The police could easily have disarmed and handcuffed him and he would have recovered in minutes," she said.

Azuz said her son was shot six times and was in a coma for three weeks. He had been drinking a bottle of scotch but was not using drugs at the time of the incident, she said.

Joseph Azuz was charged with two counts of second-degree assault with a dangerous weapon before dying.

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According to the criminal complaint:

A woman called 911 and reported that Azuz was at his father's apartment in Eden Prairie and threatening to kill himself. The woman said that Azuz said: "Guess who's dying tonight? Me!"

When Eden Prairie police responded to the apartment, they found the door locked and barricaded. Azuz was inside swearing and smashing glass, police said.

Azuz's father brought police the apartment keys. After removing a chair and furniture that had been put against the door, officers entered. Azuz said they would have to shoot him, the officers reported.

Wood first squirted pepper spray at Azuz. Another officer fired a less-than-lethal projectile at Azuz, who continued his rush and stabbed Wood in the ear. He then struck Kenyon in the arm with the shaft as another officer fired two rounds of less-lethal projectiles at Azuz. The projectiles struck Azuz, but didn't stop him. Kenyon then fired several rounds from his service pistol at Azuz when he was struck in the arm with the pointed shaft.

"Joey was not a criminal and didn't deserve to be treated as such," Pamela Azuz said. "If anything good comes out of my son's death, it will be that every police department learns how to handle mentally ill people differently than they do criminals. My son was not intent on hurting anyone but himself."

MARK STODGHILL covers public safety and courts. He can be reached weekdays at (218) 723-5333 or by e-mail at mstodghill@duluthnews.com .

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