Fired St. Paul officer who wounded unarmed Black man won't be charged

A crowd stands in front of a truck.
A crowd gathers on Nov. 29, 2020, along Rice Street near the scene where St. Paul police shot a man earlier in the night.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP file

A former St. Paul police officer fired for the nonfatal shooting of an unarmed Black man who had been hiding from police last November after allegedly livestreaming a sexual assault will not be criminally charged, authorities said.

Attorney General Keith Ellison's office said in a memo released Friday that Officer Anthony Dean had reasonably concluded that Joseph Javonte Washington was capable of hurting or killing officers or others in the area when Washington suddenly jumped out of a dumpster and rushed officers.

When he climbed out, Washington was shocked with a stun gun and attacked by a police dog before being shot by Dean.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell quickly released body camera footage of the confrontation and subsequently fired Dean, saying Washington was naked and unarmed at the time and shouldn’t have been shot. Washington’s mother, Tonya Comer, said Friday she doesn't understand why that information should not have led to charges.

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Ellison's report said Dean, a six-year veteran of the force, took action to protect himself and others.

“Officer Dean stated that he could not see Washington’s hands while in the dumpster, which caused him concern given report of a knife and Washington’s assertion he had a gun,” the memo said.

In a statement Saturday, Axtell called the incident “incredibly difficult” for the St. Paul Police Department. Dean, he said, “is a great person who served honorably and did a lot of outstanding work.

“Unfortunately, he made a terrible mistake — his actions didn’t align with the policies or standards of the St. Paul Police Department. I have an obligation to our city and agency to hold ourselves accountable to the highest standards, even and especially when it’s difficult, as it was in this case,” Axtell said.

After the case was referred to Ellison’s office by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, investigators hired use-of-force expert Jeffrey Noble to review the evidence and Noble determined that Dean's actions were “objectively reasonable and consistent with generally accepted police practices.”

Washington, 31, of Lakeville, has been charged with three counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, one count of kidnapping and one count of second degree assault in connection with an alleged attack several hours earlier in Lakeville. According to the criminal complaint, he livestreamed his sexual assault of a former girlfriend on social media and threatened to kill her.

Washington’s attorney, Zorislav Leyderman, said Friday that he couldn’t comment because of the pending criminal charges against Washington.