Duluth, MN – The St. Louis County Attorney’s Office has determined the law enforcement officers who fatally shot a convicted felon after the suspect gunned down a Duluth police K9 in February were justified in their use of deadly force.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin released a report on Aug. 5 announcing the actions of St. Louis County Sheriff’s Sergeant Miles Bruggman and Sergeant Ben Fye during the Feb. 26 encounter with 37-year-old David “Pogo” Joseph Wayne Conwell were “objectively reasonable, justified,” and authorized under the law.
Three DPD officers and one sergeant also returned fire during the shootout with Conwell but did not hit him, Rubin said.
They were also found to have been justified in their use of force.
Conwell opened fire on law enforcement on three separate occasions during the 20-hour standoff, according to investigators.
The incident began at about 8:30 p.m. on Feb. 25, when Duluth Police Department (DPD) officers responded to a domestic violence report at a home in the 2300-block of West 4th Street, according to KBJR.
When officers arrived at the residence, they discovered Conwell was a convicted felon with warrants out for his arrest, The Bemidji Pioneer reported.
He refused to surrender, so officers entered the home to take him into custody.
Police were unaware the felon was armed.
As they were searching the home, one officer located Conwell hiding in a closet and deployed DPD K9 Luna to apprehend him, The Bemidji Pioneer reported.
“As K-9 Luna was attempting to apprehend him, Conwell produced a shotgun,” the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said at the time. “Conwell shot at the officers, fatally striking K-9 Luna. The other officers returned fire. They continued to fire as they retreated from the home.”
The BCA noted there was no evidence Conwell was hit by gunfire during the initial shootout, The Bemidji Pioneer reported.
“Over the next several hours, (Tactical Response Team) members tried several electronic means of communicating with Conwell and deployed chemical irritants multiple times to try to force him to exit the apartment,” the BCA said.
The tactical team decided to breach the home at about 3 a.m. on Feb. 26, The Bemidji Pioneer reported.
When they made their way into one of the bedrooms, Conwell suddenly burst out of a closet and opened fire on them yet again.
Officers returned fire for a second time as they retreated back out of the house, The Bemidji Pioneer reported.
The St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office (SLCSO) took over the scene about 10 hours later, after additional attempts at negotiations failed.
The sheriff’s office’s Emergency Response Team ended up removing “a section of the exterior wall” where Conwell was hiding, at which point he “jumped through the hole onto the porch and pointed his gun at the deputies,” the BCA said.
Conwell was struck by bullets and less-lethal rounds, according to investigators.
Two deputies fired their rifles, and two deputies fired less-lethal rounds.
Deputies immediately rendered emergency aid, but the felon was pronounced dead at the scene from multiple gunshot wounds, The Bemidji Pioneer reported.
Rubin said the suspect placed the law enforcement officers “in a situation which necessitated the use of deadly force.”
“Their actions taken in self-defense of themselves and each other, eventually resulted in the death of David Joseph Wayne Conwell,” the county attorney wrote. “During the early stages of the standoff/encounter, Conwell shot and killed K9 Officer Luna. He then subsequently discharged his sawed-off shotgun three more times notwithstanding continuing demands for him to show his hands, drop his weapon, and surrender.”
Rubin said Conwell was “still holding his sawed-off shotgun in his hand and refusing to comply with any orders” at the time of the final officer-involved shooting.
“Peace officers have perhaps one of the most difficult and dangerously routine jobs in our society,” he wrote. “Every day that an officer puts on their uniform and starts out on patrol, they are keenly aware that there is an increasing probability of coming face to face with a potentially deadly conflict. While they admirably train for and expect this reality and risk, their number one priority continues to be the safety of the citizens of our community that they are sworn to serve and protect.”
Rubin noted that in the encounter with Conwell, the officers and deputies faced a life-threatening situation that required split-second decisions in a “fast-moving environment.”
“Based upon the totality of the circumstances in the case, the facts, current statutory and case law, I have concluded that the use of deadly force by the four Duluth police officers and two St. Louis County sheriff’s deputies was reasonable, justified and authorized,” he wrote.