Updated: 8:52 p.m.
The jury in an otherwise empty courthouse found Washington County Deputy Brian Krook not guilty of manslaughter in a 2018 shooting death.
Krook said previously he felt “horrible” that he fatally shot 23-year-old Benjamin Evans. But he said he had no choice because Evans threatened his life and the lives of his colleagues during a standoff in Lake Elmo in 2018.
Around midnight, at the end of Krook’s shift, a call came in about a man threatening to kill himself. Evans, an off-duty EMT, had put on his dress-blue uniform, knelt down in an intersection and held a handgun to his head. Court documents say he was despondent, had a blood alcohol level of .204 — two and a half times the legal limit to drive — and had indicated plans to die by suicide.
Krook was among several Washington County deputies who responded. One, Deputy Joshua Ramirez eventually convinced Evans to remove the gun’s magazine, but he continually refused to drop the weapon itself, which had a round in the chamber.
After the court clerk read the verdict, Krook was visibly relieved. He did not speak to reporters. His defense attorney Kevin Short said the footage the jury saw was consistent with testimony from the other officers at the scene.
“Brian Krook really had no choice,” Short said. “And all of the testimony, including his and his fellow officers, as confirmed by that video evidence shows that without any question.”
In a statement, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, whose prosecutors handled the case because of a conflict of interest in Washington county, said in a statement he accepts the jury’s verdict and appreciates the time they took to hear the case. Sheriff Dan Starry said he hopes that his deputies and the Evans family can heal.
Krook’s union, Law Enforcement Labor Services, said the case never should have been tried in the first place. Executive Director Sean Gormley said in a statement that while the incident was a tragedy, “we need to stop trying to make criminals out of police officers who are asked to respond to dangerous, no-win situations involving persons who don’t put down their guns.”
But Evans’ mother Kim Porter, who attended the trial, said later by phone that evidence shows something very different: Deputies killed a man in crisis when they should have saved his life.
“Every time they put on their uniform, they know their job is dangerous,” Porter said. “But they have a duty to serve and protect, not just themselves and serving their own interests, not just the community, but those in distress, those for whom they’ve been called to a scene.”
Evans’ father Bill Evans said he talked many people out of suicide in his own career as a first responder. He notes that Benjamin had recently gone grocery shopping, changed his oil, bought new clothes for a job interview, and contacted friends — all actions inconsistent with wanting to die.
“I have found in my time as a medic and a firefighter that when people don’t immediately kill themselves, if they make a phone call, they’re asking for help,” he said.
Evans said his son did not have a history of mental health problems and was just having a bad day after learning a friend had betrayed him. He said Benjamin never would have fired at fellow first responders, and a few more minutes of negotiation likely would have brought a peaceful resolution.
Porter and Evans said the most tragic part of this situation is that Benjamin Evans never got to advance in his own career as a firefighter and EMT and his daughter — now 3 years old — will grow up without her father.
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