Crime, Law and Justice

Civil jury finds St. Paul cop liable in on-duty 2017 killing

Kim Handy Jones speaks in St. Paul
Kim Handy Jones spoke in St. Paul in 2017 after filing her initial federal civil rights lawsuit in connection with the shooting death of her son, Cordale Handy, in a confrontation with St. Paul police. A jury on Monday found an officer civilly liable in connection with the killing.
Tim Nelson | MPR News 2017

Updated Aug. 2, 8 a.m. | Posted July 31, 2:10 p.m.

A federal jury on Monday found St. Paul police officer Nathaniel Younce civilly liable for the fatal shooting of Cordale Handy in 2017. Jurors, in a mixed decision, also determined that a second officer involved in the incident, Mikko Norman, should not be held liable.

Jurors on Tuesday awarded $11.5 million in damages to Handy’s family, including $1.5 million in punitive damages. The city said it’s reviewing its options in the wake of the verdict.

Norman and Younce killed Cordale Handy, 29, on March 15, 2017 after responding to a domestic violence call in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said later the officers’ use of deadly force was justified and they would not face criminal charges.

Handy's mother, Kim Handy Jones, sued the city nearly a month after the incident but later dropped her case. She refiled her lawsuit in 2020.

In it, Handy Jones alleged that the officers shouted conflicting commands at her son and shot him seconds after he tossed his gun away.

Handy Jones said her son was experiencing a mental health crisis and acknowledged that he had earlier fired 16 shots inside his apartment because he thought someone was “trying to hurt or kill him.”

Younce testified in court last week that he opened fire when Handy pointed his gun toward Norman and said Handy posed an “active deadly threat … If he did not point the gun at my partner, I would not have shot him.”

Younce fired four of the seven shots that struck Handy; Norman fired the other three.

The incident happened about six months before the St. Paul Police Department began deploying body cameras. Security cameras in the area captured some video related to the incident, but not the shooting itself.

Valerie Overton
Valerie Overton of Waukegan, Ill., aunt of 29-year-old Cordale Handy, wears a shirt with his likeness during a community meeting at Progressive Baptist Church in St. Paul on April 20.
Richard Marshall for MPR News | 2017

A forensic pathologist whom the plaintiffs called as an expert witness cast doubt on the officers’ testimony. Dr. Ronald K. Wright testified that abrasions on Handy’s right hand indicate that it was “highly unlikely” that Handy was holding the gun when was shot because he’d fallen, and used his hand to break the fall.

Handy Jones said she knew in her heart that her son hadn’t pointed a gun at police officers.

“I watched them demonize, victimize, criminalize and demoralize my child, but today we humanize Cordale Quinn Handy,” she said, urging families of police officers to continue to fight. “Your justice again is not denied, it may be delayed, but it’s not denied.”

Handy's gun was later determined to have been unloaded. The medical examiner found that Handy had drugs in his system including N-Ethylpentylone. The drug, commonly known as “bath salts,” can result in agitation and erratic behavior, according to the autopsy report.

Attorney Kevin O’Connor, who is based in Chicago, said the verdict is evidence that people can get justice in incidents involving police even when no video of the killing exists. 

“Now justice can happen for those people who have been wronged, where they have been denied, saying that it didn't happen, where police come forward saying it didn't happen,” he said. “Because we uncovered the evidence that proved those lies they were trying to do.”

Attorney Paul Bosman of Communities United Against Police Brutality said they were able to find evidence that helped prove the case because volunteers went through thousands of pages of evidence to find the facts that convinced jurors of the police officer’s liability.

“We are just completely humbled to be able to take these cases, and to have the family’s trust, and to be able to work with them to find truth, and to get justice and to find accountability like we got today,” said Communities United Against Police Brutality volunteer Emma Pederson.

While civil suits alleging excessive force and wrongful death are common, it's extremely rare for them to go to trial. Handy was Black and the officers are white. The jury of seven men and five women included several people of color, but none appeared to be African American.

Handy’s mother has been heavily involved with groups involving families of people killed by police officers, and said she plans to use some of the judgment to continue to support them.

“I knew this day would come,” Handy Jones said after leaving the courtroom. “It doesn't bring back my baby, but hopefully this will open up doors for other mothers who look like me, who suffered the same thing as me.”

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Norman and Younce became St. Paul officers in 2014. Younce is still a St. Paul officer, and Norman left the department in 2021.

In a statement following the verdict, a Ramsey County Attorney’s Office spokesperson noted the decision standard in civil court is “significantly less than a ‘proof beyond a reasonable doubt’ standard” in criminal cases, and that based on the evidence it saw, “the use of deadly force by both officers was justified.”

Prosecutors, though, are “open” to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension “investigating the record developed in this federal civil rights lawsuit and re-submitting any newly discovered and significant evidence or testimony that is at odds with what was previously presented to us by the BCA for review in 2017,” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for the BCA said Tuesday that the agency will “review the evidence that led to yesterday’s ruling in the Cordale Handy case. We will present any new evidence or discrepancies found between the federal civil rights lawsuit and the 2017 criminal case to the Ramsey County Attorney for review under Minnesota criminal statutes.”

St. Paul city officials said Tuesday that they’re reviewing the verdict and considering options — possibly including an appeal. St. Paul is self-insured, so the verdict — the largest in city history — would be funded by taxpayers.

Mayor Melvin Carter issued a statement Tuesday evening saying his “heartfelt condolences go out to Mr. Handy’s family and friends for their devastating loss.”

“I am, at the same time, surprised by both the finding of liability and the magnitude of damages awarded by the jury in this case,” Carter wrote. “Our officers responded to a chaotic and dangerous scene centered around a person who, by all accounts, was acting erratically and had already fired 16 shots before police arrived. I have always spoken clearly about the high standard to which I hold our police officers. In reviewing the details of this case, I simply cannot conclude that those involved had other reasonable options to immediately resolve this escalating crisis and prevent further loss of life without force.”

MPR News reporter Tim Nelson contributed to this report.