STILLWATER, Minn. -- A Minnesota sheriff's deputy who fatally shot an armed suicidal man in 2018 used unreasonable force on a man in crisis, prosecutors said Wednesday at the outset of his trial.
Washington County deputy Brian Krook ignored the law and his training on April 12, 2018, when he killed Benjamin Evans, a 23-year-old emergency medical technician and probationary firefighter who was distraught over a breakup, Ramsey County prosecutor Andrew Johnson said during his opening statement.
“Mr. Evans needed help that day, and this is not the way law enforcement is supposed to respond,” Johnson said.
Defense attorney Paul Engh, though, told jurors that Evans saw his life unraveling and had decided to kill himself, but couldn't bring himself to do it and refused police orders to put down his gun.
“This was a suicide by cop,” he said, later adding: “It's a tragedy that he died. It is not a crime that he caused his own death.”
Krook, 31, pleaded not guilty to second-degree manslaughter in the killing of Evans. Krook was among officers who responded to a report of a suicidal armed man in Lake Elmo, about 19 miles (30 kilometers) northeast of Minneapolis. When deputies first arrived, they found Evans kneeling in an intersection, with a gun to his head, according to court testimony.
Evans had moved from St. Louis to Minnesota to be with his girlfriend, and she had recently broken up with him and he lost his job. On the morning of April 11, 2018, he got a message from a friend who said he was cutting off all contact because he was dating Evans' ex-girlfriend, whom Evans had wanted to marry, according to attorney statements and witness testimony Wednesday.
Evans texted another friend, Brianna Gysbers, and the two of them hung out all day, drank alcohol, and were at Evans' apartment that night when Evans called his ex-girlfriend to try to convince her to marry him.
When she refused, he put on his firefighter dress uniform, wrote goodbye notes to his parents and to the first responders who would find him, called a friend to say goodbye, and then left his house with his gun, Gysbers testified.
Gysbers testified that Evans never said he wanted to shoot police. “He only wanted to hurt himself,” she said. She went to a neighbor's apartment and called 911.
Multiple officers responded, including Washington County Sheriff's Deputy Joshua Ramirez, who arrived first. Ramirez testified that he and another deputy tried to negotiate with Evans for 39 minutes as he held the gun to his head. Johnson said that Evans never aimed the gun at anyone other than himself.
But Engh said Krook was uncomfortable with Evans turning his head, fearing that if Evans fired with the gun at his head, the bullet might hit officers in its trajectory.
Video from Ramirez's squad car was played Wednesday, merged with audio from Krook's body camera. Ramirez's body camera video and audio were also played for the jury.
In an enhanced version of the squad car video, Evans can be seen kneeling in the street, with his right hand holding the gun to his head as his left hand motions while he talks. At times, he quickly twists his torso and moves his head to the left and right.
Ramirez can be heard negotiating — pleading with Evans repeatedly — to get him to drop the gun.
“Benjamin, please, can you please, just put the gun down? We can talk about this,” Ramirez said. Most of what Evans said is unintelligible, but at times he sounds agitated. At one point Evans said he made mistakes, and Ramirez testified Evans was asking for a phone to call his girlfriend.
“I can't just walk up to you and give you the phone, Benjamin, with your gun there,” Ramirez said.
Krook tells Ramirez that he's preparing to use a less lethal weapon to shoot Evans if needed, and Evans can be heard saying he's not going to force police into a shooting. “I'm not gonna ... make you kill a 23-year-old kid,” Evans said.
As Evans can be seen turning his head quickly from side to side, Krook says: “Ramirez, I'm getting uncomfortable with him turning his head, just so you know."
Evans then begins talking about police tactics, saying he knows authorities are doing their jobs, when Krook fires four times as Evans is talking, according to the video and audio played in court.
Johnson said Krook hit Evans once. He ran toward Evans, who still had his gun to his head, and intended to kick the gun away, Johnson said. When Evans' arm fell toward the ground, Krook fired three more times.
Evans was ultimately shot twice in the chest, once in the side, and once in the leg. Ramirez's body camera video shows deputies cutting off his clothing and trying to give him medical attention before Evans is quickly loaded into an ambulance.
Johnson said that before Krook shot Evans, negotiations had been going well and Evans had repeatedly said he was not going to harm the deputies. Ramirez got Evans to remove the magazine from his gun, potentially leaving just one bullet in the chamber, and when Evans said at one point that he was going to kill himself in two minutes, Ramirez talked him out of it, the prosecutor said.
Engh pushed back on the idea that negotiations had been going well. He said Evans' life was unraveling and that he had been drinking to build up the courage to end his life.
“No one was going to talk him out of it,” Engh said.
Engh told jurors that Krook plans to testify during the trial.
Krook is the third Minnesota officer in recent years to be charged in an on-duty killing. Former St. Anthony officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted in the July 2016 killing of Philando Castile, and former Minneapolis officer Mohamed Noor was convicted in the July 2017 shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond.
This story has been updated to correct the victim's name to Benjamin Evans, and to note that he was armed, instead of unarmed.
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