Attorneys representing two Minneapolis police officers accused of the wrongful death of Dominic Felder began presenting their case Wednesday in U.S. District Court.
Officers Jason King and Lawrence Loonsfoot are accused of using unnecessary force when they shot and killed Felder in 2006.
According to the officers, when they asked Felder to let them pat him down, Felder ran away.
A Minneapolis Police sergeant who trains officers in the use of force testified that King and Loonsfoot were justified in shooting Felder seven times on the night of Sept. 20, 2006.
Sgt. Todd Sauvageau said the officers were right to suspect Felder had a gun -- even though it turned out later Felder was unarmed.
"Every call is different," says Sauvageau. "We're dealing with human beings in emotional situations."
King and Loonsfoot were responding to a second hand domestic disturbance call and were told by a dispatcher that a man had threatened to kill a woman and her son.
Sauvageau says domestic calls can be particularly dangerous for officers. Sauvageau also says officer Loonsfoot was justified in shooting Felder six times. He says Loonsfoot believed his life and his partner's life was in danger. "We shoot to stop a threat," he said.
Sauvageau says he came to his conclusion after reading the officers statements and court depositions of Felder's girlfriend and her mother who were near the site of the shooting.
But the women's testimony contradicted some of the officers' accounts. And plaintiff attorney Doug Micko peppered Sauvageau with pointed questions and inferred that Sauvageau was biased. Two more police officers who arrived right as the shooting took place also testified. They said they saw a struggle between King and Felder -- even though they couldn't tell immediately what they were fighting over.
The defense attorneys also called King to the stand. King had already been cross-examined by attorneys representing Felder's family. King explained that he feared for his life during the struggle with Felder.
During the struggle, he said, Felder made repeated attempts to reach into his waistband. He says he was convinced that Felder was preparing to pull out a weapon.
"In my mind, that gun was still coming out of there," King said.
King said Felder then grabbed King's .44 caliber service pistol with two hands and pulled it toward him. And he says Felder was winning the tug-of-war.
Felder, though only 5-1 and 150 lbs, was a strong man, his mother Katie Felder said. She was one of the last witnesses to testify for the plaintiffs. She said her son had work out equipment and took good care of himself.
Katie Felder also said once when Dominic was 16, that he fought off four boys who tried to get him to join a gang.
But Katie Felder said Dominic didn't like confrontation. He liked to cook, keep a clean house and write poetry. She read one of his poems aloud to the court.
But most of all, Katie Felder said, her son loved being a father to his two daughters who are now 9 and 13.
The mothers of his daughters both testified that even though Felder didn't make a lot of money at his job as a telemarketer, he supported his children financially and emotionally.