4 St. Paul officers cleared in shooting death

The scene of the shooting
Shots were exchanged by St. Paul Police and a man who was killed at this house on White Bear Avenue in St. Paul, March 16, 2015.
Peter Cox | MPR News

A grand jury cleared four St. Paul police officers involved in the shooting death of a 28-year-old man in March after a 45-minute standoff in east St. Paul.

The Ramsey County panel concluded Wednesday officers Mark Farrington, Brian Hall, Patrick Murphy and Jermaine Davis were justified in their use of deadly force. They shot and killed Justin Todd Tolkinen outside a house on White Bear Avenue after he allegedly aimed an assault rifle at them.

An investigation report also released Wednesday gave an account of the events leading up to the shooting. Tolkinen had been drinking with his girlfriend the previous night into the following day. Witnesses said they saw Tolkinen's girlfriend leaving the house moments before the standoff ensued.

Officers arrived to find a shirtless Tolkinen wearing a body armor vest, holding a semi-automatic assault rifle and "yelling about NATO and the government," according to the report. Tolkinen put the rifle down inside the door to his house, but it was still within reach. He stood on the deck holding the screen door open.

Ramsey County Criminal Division Director Richard Dusterhoft wrote in the report that officers also saw a loaded magazine in Tolkinen's vest pocket and were concerned that there were more weapons inside the house.

Negotiators were unsuccessful in trying to get Tolkinen to talk to them and move away from the assault rifle, the report said.

"Tolkinen did, however, know police were there and would not follow commands to step away and allow the door to shut," the report said, "to put a barrier and distance between Tolkinen and the assault rifle."

SWAT officers fired bean bag rounds in attempt to get Tolkinen to move, but they didn't work, according to the report. Tolkinen then picked up the rifle and aimed it at the officers.

The officers advanced on Tolkinen with Farrington directly facing him and the other officers behind.

"Fearing for his life and for the life of the officers behind him, Officer Farrington shot Tolkinen," Dusterhoft wrote in the report.

Tolkinen moved from the kitchen to the living room still holding the rifle, and Farrington shot again. Officer Hall fired next before Tolkinen disappeared behind the wall and out of his view.

Tolkinen was struck multiple times. The report said the armored vest stopped some rounds. Tolkinen was hit on other parts of his body, though the report did not say where. It's also not clear how many rounds the officers fired or how many struck Tolkinen.

In addition to the AR-16 .223 caliber semiautomatic assault rifle that investigators found next to Tolkinen's body, they found two loaded magazines with 590 live rifle rounds, according to the report. They also found a .45 caliber Glock semiautomatic handgun on the living room couch and empty rifle magazines, loaded handgun magazines, another body armor vest and a rifle case. The nightstand drawer in the bedroom also had a loaded semiautomatic handgun, a loaded assault rifle magazine and a concealable handgun holster.

Elsewhere in the house, investigators found gun cleaning supplies, a gun safe, multiple boxes of ammunition and more magazines, three more semiautomatic handguns, three assault rifles, camouflage gear, a gas mask and rubber gloves.

The investigation report does not mention dispatch records that showed Tolkinen called his mother during the standoff and told her he was afraid for his life.

Tolkinen's father told police he'd been in treatment for mental illness several times. He also said Tolkinen stopped taking his medication because he couldn't afford it, according to Dusterhoft's investigation report.