Duluth, MN – A Minnesota judge refused to dismiss felony firearm charges against 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.
Duluth Police Department (DPD) Officer Tyler Leibfried, 29, has been charged with reckless discharge of a firearm within a municipality and discharge of a firearm that endangers safety in connection with the 2020 shooting of 23-year-old Jared Fyle, who suffered a gunshot wound to his shoulder during the incident, KBJR reported.
Officer Leibfried’s attorney, Paul Engh, filed a motion for dismissal of the charges back in January, making the argument the officer was justified in using deadly force because he was responding to a perceived threat, according to the Duluth News Tribune.
Sixth Judicial District Judge Sally Tarnowski disagreed with Engh’s position in a ruling on March 15, thereby allowing the case against the officer to proceed.
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 the bangs 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 probably caused by him forcibly kicking or shoving the door closed, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
Fyle was rushed to a local hospital with a bullet lodged in his shoulder, according to KBJR.
He was not charged with any offenses in connection with the incident.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin alleged Officer Leibfried exercised “poor judgement” by discharging his weapon during the encounter, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
The prosecutor argued the officer waited too long to fire his gun, and said there “might have been an argument” 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 veteran prosecutor said he “can’t think of any job that is more dangerous than a police officer,” but argued that Officer Leibfried’s actions were outside the scope of what was “objectively reasonable,” the Duluth News Tribune reported.
He said the officer acted out of fear and put many people in danger, according to KBJR.
“The pause before the first volley of four shots, the pause before the second volley of two shots, combined with the closed door and the victim’s later pleas for help, raise the question of whether or not defendant’s actions were objectively reasonable,” Tarnowski’s 11-page decision read, according to the Twin Cities Pioneer Press.
“The court recognizes the myriad dangers inherent to the job of a police officer,” the judge wrote. “The court respects the immense difficulties raised by split second decisions in circumstances where the lives of citizens and the lives of officers are in danger. However, based upon the complaint and the record before it, the court concludes that defendant’s motion to dismiss must be denied.”
Engh released a statement following the court’s ruling.
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s order, and believe the shots fired were well-justified,” he said, according to the Star Tribune. “Officer Leibfried is looking forward to his jury trial.”
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.
He will remain “off duty indefinitely,” according to the DPD.
Prior to discharging their weapons, DPD officers are required under department policy to issue a warning if possible, to make de-escalation attempts, and to exhaust all other options, KBJR reported.
“You get under stress, you get auditory exclusion, you get tunnel vision,” DPD Chief Mike Tusken said. “The human condition is not perfect and we will make errors and we will continue to make errors.”
Officer Leibfried faces a maximum of two years in prison on each count if he is convicted, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
A trial date has not been set yet.