Prosecutor: No charges against cop who killed man in Arby's struggle

Plymouth police officer Amy Therkelsen
Plymouth police officer Amy Therkelsen won't face charges from the Hennepin County attorney in the shooting death of 31-year-old Derek Wolfsteller last July.
Courtesy of Hennepin County

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman will not charge a Plymouth police officer in the shooting death of Derek Wolfsteller last July.

In announcing his decision, Freeman on Wednesday also released details of the investigation, which he says shows officer Amy Therkelsen was justified in using deadly force to kill Wolfsteller in a confrontation at an Arby's restaurant. However, the attorney representing the family of the man who was fatally shot says Wolfsteller needed help and didn't need to die.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Plymouth officer Amy Therkelsen was called to the restaurant about a disturbance. Authorities say Therkelsen shot Wolfsteller after he tried to get her gun. He died at the scene.

Derek Wolfsteller
Derek Wolfsteller was shot and killed at an Arby's restaurant in Plymouth on July 23, 2015.
Courtesy of Wolfsteller family

Wolfsteller, a 31-year-old Plymouth man, initially called 911 and told a dispatcher to send an ambulance to the Arby's where he was. Asked who the ambulance was for, Wolfsteller answered, "For me." Asked by the dispatcher if he had a mental illness, Wolfsteller said yes.

The emergency call was answered by Therkelsen, a seven-year officer. As she approached the scene, the dispatcher told her that the man inside Arby's may be having mental health problems and he may or may not be carrying knives.

When Therkelsen arrived, according to Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators, she first tried to get Wolfsteller to come out of the restaurant. But investigators say Wolfsteller ran toward a door and into an Arby's employee.

Therkelsen commanded Wolfsteller to put his hands up and get on the floor. But investigators say Wolfsteller didn't comply and struggled with now two restaurant employees.

Investigators say Therkelsen first used her Taser, but it failed to get Wolfsteller to stop. Therkelsen then wound up in a hand-to-hand confrontation with Wolfsteller.

Investigators say during the struggle, Wolfsteller managed to get both hands on Therkelsen's holstered gun. Two minutes elapsed between the time investigators say Therkelsen arrived to when she pulled her gun from Wolfsteller's grasp and shot him twice in the head. He died at the scene.

As in the fatal shooting death of 24-year-old Jamar Clark by a Minneapolis police officer last fall, Freeman chose not to submit the BCA investigation to a grand jury.

In a written statement, Freeman said Therkelsen was justified in using lethal force because there was physical evidence to show Wolfsteller was holding onto the officer's weapon.

"When she was able to regain control of her gun it was reasonable for her to conclude that she must shoot Mr. Wolfsteller in order to protect herself, the three employees and others in the restaurant," Freeman said. "So no criminal charges are warranted against the officer."

Wolfsteller's father declined to comment on Freeman's decision and directed questions to family attorney Chris Ritts, who called the shooting preventable.

Therkelsen was not properly trained to intervene in situations involving people experiencing a mental health crisis, said Ritts, who's also running for a spot on the Hennepin County bench this year.

"That's what's really sad about it," he said. "You call the police because you're mentally distraught or over wrought. Who are you going to call? You call the police. And then they kill him."

The family is considering filing a civil rights suit against Therkelsen and the Plymouth police department, he added.

Ritts said he doesn't know if Wolfsteller was diagnosed with a specific mental illness. But he said the Plymouth police department had dealt with Wolfsteller just the day before the shooting.

According to investigators, Wolfsteller's grandfather called police because Wolfsteller had come over and was acting strangely. The report said Wolfsteller was often paranoid, and grabbed two steak knives for protection. Wolfsteller's grandfather drove him to a hospital to get help but Wolfsteller likely never went inside the hospital, according to the report.

Investigators also say officer Therkelsen had received at least three training sessions on crisis intervention.

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