Search warrant: MPD snipers shot man from across street during standoff

Two people light candles
Danny Connelly (left) lights candles while high school teacher and community activist Marcia Howard holds her head at a vigil for Andrew Tekle Sundberg on July 14 in Minneapolis. Sundberg was shot and killed by Minneapolis police earlier that day after an overnight standoff.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Updated: July 16, 9:45 a.m.| Posted July 15, 3:15 p.m.

The man killed by Minneapolis police on Thursday was shot by two police snipers who’d set up observation positions on the roof of an apartment building across the street from the overnight standoff, according to a newly released search warrant tied to the investigation.

Authorities haven’t said yet what led the snipers — later identified as officers Aaron Pearson and Zachary Seraphine — to shoot 20-year-old Andrew Tekle Sundberg following about six hours of police trying to negotiate with him to end the standoff.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating.

Officers responded about 9:30 p.m. Wednesday after a report of shots fired inside an apartment building on the 900 block of 21st Avenue South, a couple blocks east of Cedar Avenue and just south of Interstate 94.

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Responding officers encountered more gunfire as they arrived at the scene. They evacuated people in the building and requested a SWAT team.  

People stand in front of a building
Friends and supporters gather for a vigil to remember Andrew Tekle Sundberg on July 14 in Minneapolis.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Sundberg lived in the apartment building where the standoff happened.

The search warrant is a standard piece of any investigation into an officer-involved shooting. A judge must sign off before police can gather evidence from the scene.

Among other details, the search warrant noted about a dozen so-called “less-lethal” rounds collected at the scene. That’s a law enforcement term for projectiles — often 40 mm foam rounds — meant to incapacitate a person without killing them.

It indicated officers fired these projectiles at some point during the six-hour standoff, but the document does not say when they used them.

In some prior cases where police officers shot and killed people, the city moved quickly to release some of the officer body camera footage. City officials have not released any such video around Sundberg's killing or announced plans to release it.

Minneapolis attorney Jeff Storms said he’s representing the Sundberg family. Storms has worked on several high-profile cases with civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who settled with the city for $27 million last year over George Floyd’s murder. Crump announced Friday evening that he had also joined the team representing the family.

Friends, family seek answers

A person in a white shirt and bandanna
Andrew Tekle Sundberg.
Provided by Attorney Jeff Storms

A statement from the family released by Crump and Storms on Friday evening indicated that the family had received little information about the incident.

“We want the world to know that Tekle was deeply loved and that his family and friends are beyond shocked and grieving from these horrific events,” the statement from Mark and Cindy Sundberg read.

“Like millions in America and worldwide, Tekle struggled with his mental health. While we have received very little information thus far, by all accounts, it sounds like our Tekle was suffering from a mental health crisis. We send our deepest sympathies to anyone in his building impacted by his crisis, and we thank the community members who have come forward in loving memory of Tekle.”

Organizers of a candlelight vigil held Thursday night near the scene of the shooting also said Sundberg, known by friends and loved ones as Tekle, his Ethiopian name, was experiencing a mental health crisis during the standoff.

According to a 2015 GoFundMe page, Sundberg was born in Ethiopia and adopted into a Minnesota family with three biological and six adopted children. 

Several of Sundberg friends expressed frustration with the police department’s handling of the standoff that ultimately led to his death. One questioned why the police would call his parents to the scene but not let them talk to Sundberg.

The family’s attorneys echoed that concern in a statement released on Friday.

“The family has been given very little information about why Tekle’s mental health crisis became a death sentence. His family rejects the public narrative that the Minneapolis Police Department’s efforts were done in close collaboration with his family. His parents were highly restricted in terms of their ability to interact with Tekle and were not allowed to do everything they could to save their son’s life,” the attorneys said.

One of Sundberg’s classmates, who identified herself as Tina TC, approached the makeshift memorial of chalk and tea light candles. Her phone illuminated her face as she slowly scrolled through her Facebook Messenger chat with Sundberg. The two had stayed in touch, even after graduating together in 2019.

A silhouette of a person
Tina TC stands in front of a makeshift memorial for Andrew Tekle Sundberg in Minneapolis on July 14. TC graduated from Roosevelt High School with Sundberg in 2019. The two stayed in touch and had recently chatted about Sundberg’s desire to to search for his biological family in Ethiopia.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“Recently, he was telling me how he actually wanted to go back home. We both are from Ethiopia,” she said. “He wanted to find his biological parents. May his soul rest in peace.”

Speakers also criticized the media’s handling of the story, alleging that reporters were harassing Sundberg’s family and putting too much focus on statements released by the police.

“That was a whole person. That was an artist. That was a gardener. That was a wrestler. That was a brother. That was a friend,” said Marcia Howard, who taught Sundberg English at Roosevelt High School.

Family members and other supporters were expected to attend a march and rally in honor of Sundberg on Saturday afternoon.

A group of people hold a candle
Friends and supporters gather for a candlelight vigil to remember Andrew Tekle Sundberg on July 14.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

‘Presence of a firearm is a game changer’

Why were officers and not mental health experts doing the outreach to Sundberg during the standoff? It’s likely that the shots fired early on deeply influenced the police response, said James Densley, a professor at the School of Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice at Metropolitan State University.

“Whether it's police aggression or community aggression, the presence of a firearm is a game changer,” Densley said. “It's the reason why there's a reluctance to send a mental health worker or a social worker or a de-escalation specialist to a situation like this because there's a very real prospect they will get shot and killed.”

Densley said Sundberg’s killing also signals the seemingly contradictory situation that American law enforcement officers find themselves in more than two years after George Floyd’s murder.

“We've just spent a number of years calling for community based alternatives to police, but whenever there are guns present, the fallback is we need a law enforcement response,” Densley said. “On the one hand, they've effectively been asked to stand down, because the community's got this, but the evidence is suggesting that the community doesn't have it.”

The omnipresence of firearms in American society likely leads law enforcement to act more aggressively than needed when confronting civilians, Densley said. But the prospect of a mass shooting situation where an officer is shot and killed likely looms in the minds of the law enforcement officials who are deciding on tactics like the use of snipers or how long to continue negotiations during an armed standoff, he added.

“With every mass shooting, with every officer-involved shooting, with every situation that kind of escalates out of control, law enforcement are looking at those — and they're being informed by them for better or for worse,” Densley said.