Duluth, MN – A Duluth police officer who shot through the closed door of an apartment after hearing what he and a fellow officer believed to be gunfire coming from the other side was found not guilty by a jury late last week.
Duluth Police Department (DPD) Officer Tyler Leibfried was swarmed by his fellow officers and family members as he left the St. Louis County courtroom at the conclusion of his weeklong trial on April 22, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The 30-year-old officer was charged with reckless discharge of a firearm that endangers the safety of others and second-degree assault in connection with the Sept. 12, 2020 shooting of 24-year-old Jared Fyle.
Fyle was shot in the shoulder during the encounter and survived his injuries, KBJR reported.
Officer Leibfried faced up to two years in prison on each count, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The jury, which was comprised of five women and seven men, deliberated for approximately three hours before rendering the not guilty verdict.
“He’s delighted with the verdict,” Officer Leibfried’s attorney, Paul Engh, told reporters on Friday.
St. Louis County Attorney Kim Maki said her office decided to pursue charges against the young officer because they believed the evidence showed his use of deadly force was “not reasonable under the circumstances,” the Duluth News Tribune reported.
“The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office respects the jury’s decision and will continue to work diligently, alongside our partners in law enforcement, for the good of everyone in our community,” Maki said after the jury’s unanimous decision was rendered.
The incident occurred on Sept. 12, 2020, after Officer Leibfried and fellow DPD Officer Cory Lindsholm received a report of a possible domestic disturbance at the Kingsley Heights Apartments on West First Street, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
After investigating the situation, the officers determined nothing illegal had occurred, so they headed to Fyle’s apartment to gather up some of his girlfriend’s belongings for her, according to court documents.
Bodycam footage showed the officers as they approached the door of Fyle’s third-floor apartment.
A moment later, loud bangs that sounded like gunshots could be heard.
The officers later told Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (MBCA) investigators that they believed the sounds to be gunfire, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
Officer Leibfried, a veteran of the U.S. Army Reserves, described the narrow hallway layout as a “fatal funnel,” that left him and his partner with very little space to maneuver and keep themselves safe, according to Engh.
When he heard what he believed to be gunfire, Officer Leibfried perceived his life was in danger and opened fire through the door, the attorney explained.
Engh argued that Officer Leibfried’s use of deadly force was justified under the “reasonable officer standard” established by the U.S. Supreme Court, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
Bodycam footage showed the cornered officer as he broadcasted a “shots fired” alert over the radio after hearing the bangs coming from inside Fyle’s apartment.
Seconds later, he shot at the closed door multiple times, at which point Fyle yelled out from inside, the video showed.
Officer Leibfried paused before firing additional shots as Fyle screamed out again.
The officer then radioed for an ambulance before he sprinted out of the small space where he had no cover and ran down the hallway to safety, the video showed.
Investigators later determined Fyle was unarmed and that the gunfire-like sounds were caused by him banging a hatchet against the door to close it, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
He then engaged the deadbolt.
Fyle was not charged with any offenses in connection with the incident, KBJR reported.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin alleged Officer Leibfried exercised “poor judgement” by discharging his weapon during the encounter, the Duluth News Tribune previously reported.
The prosecutor argued the officer waited too long to fire his gun, and said there “might have been an argument” about his decision to fire if he’d shot through the door the second he heard the banging noises.
Since he waited, that meant Officer Leibfried should have figured out no one was shooting at him, Rubin opined.
The DPD placed the five-year department veteran on leave in the wake of the shooting, and has since determined that he violated the agency’s use-of-force policies during the officer-involved shooting, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The DPD previously said Officer Leibfried would remain “off duty indefinitely” and payroll records indicated he has not received any pay since January of 2021, according to the paper.
His next battle will be the fight to keep his job at the DPD, Engh said.
Officer Leibfried’s arbitration and unemployment claim hearings are both scheduled to take place in the next several weeks, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
Meanwhile, Fyle has confirmed he plans to sue the city for allegedly violating his civil rights.