MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced on Friday that he will not file criminal charges against a St. Louis Park police officer who shot and killed a man who resisted arrest in January 2019.
Law enforcement says Tuhkanen was “holed up in his girlfriend’s bedroom” when he “suddenly reached towards a blind spot”, according to a news release. The police officers on scene say they believed he was reaching for a weapon, and accordingly Freeman says officer Samuel Heffernan was “within the law” when he shot Tuhkanen four times in response.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office investigated the shooting, which was not captured on camera as St. Louis Park police officers had not been issued body-worn cameras at the time.
Freeman released this statement on Friday:
All of these cases are a tragedy for the family of the victim, for the officers on the scene and for the community. But Mr. Tuhkanen had frightened his girlfriend to the point where she could barely speak. The confined space and Mr. Tuhkanen’s refusal to obey police commands and his sudden movement toward a hidden area gave the officers every reason to believe he was reaching for a weapon.
Police say the incident began when Tuhkanen’s “on-and-off girlfriend of five years, whom he had a child with” called 911.
She informed a dispatcher that Tuhkanen was in her apartment and they had been arguing, adding that he had three warrants out for his arrest for parole violations in Anoka County.
Police arrived and after some time they were able to locate Tuhkanen. They say they confronted him and told him to show his hands. According to police, he began to partially comply, but “hid his left hand and when he showed it again there was something in it.” It turned out to be a cigarette lighter, according to police, and Tuhkanen lit a cigarette while “yelling at the police that they had no right to be in the apartment and demanding to see his girlfriend.”
Police told him that they were going to arrest him because of his outstanding warrant and because he had evaded them when they first arrived on scene.
The standoff continued on, and a news release says a police officer holstered his taser and prepared to place handcuffs on Tuhkanen. However, Tuhkanen continued to move his left hand in and out of his pocket, “sometimes to tap cigarette ash into it.”
Officer Heffernan told him that if he didn’t follow their orders he would be shot.
Tuhkanen then, “crouched down, turned towards the dresser and made a jerking motion with his left hand towards an area officers couldn’t see.” Heffernan fired four shots at Tuhkanen — two of which struck his torso, while another two hit his right arm.
Tuhkanen later died from the injuries. Police were eventually able to determine that he did not have any weapons on him at the time of his death.