Red Lake man sentenced to 37 years for killing a tribal police officer

In Bemidji Chief U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim sentenced a Red Lake man in northwest Minnesota to 37 years in prison Tuesday for the 2021 murder of tribal officer, Ryan Bialke.

Brian Donnell, 30, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder as part of a plea agreement. Prosecutors had sought a life sentence but dropped other charges — including first-degree murder — in exchange for Donnell’s guilty plea.

According to pre-sentencing reports Donnell and his girlfriend had stayed up all night on July 26th 2021 doing drugs. Eventually Donnell became aggressive, and his girlfriend left. later calling her mother concerned he would harm himself. In a 911 call emergency services were erroneously told two others were in Donnell’s house including a child and the caller feared for their safety.  

After making contact with a “weeping drunk” Donnell on his porch the officers tried to deescalate the situation, including by attempting to contact his grandmother, before he retreated into his house.

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Shots after door breached

Believing others were in the house the five officers stacked up in a line with Bialke acting as the breacher.

After kicking in the door Bialke was met with the sight of Donnell pointing a high-powered rifle at him. Forensics evidence says Bialke squared his body up in the doorway in his final moments to protect the other officers.

Donnell shot Bialke four times, and despite the officers ballistic vest, the bullets killed him almost instantly. Bialke’s gun was also still in its holster.

Donnell then continued firing for another 2-3 minutes sending 22-30 shots at the other officers. One officer fired two suppressive shots at Donnell as the others retreated into a wooded area. Donnell eventually surrendered to law enforcement with assistance from his mother and grandmother.

Victim statements

During sentencing the other officers recounted the shooting and what life has been like since then including their mental health struggles caused by the trauma of the incident.

Several of Bialke’s family members also spoke. Prosecutors and family members read letters from other relatives including his 7-year old child who wrote she is sad her father would never get to see her ride horses and that she’s mad he died.

Jeff Donnell, David’s uncle, said that his nephew, who he knew to be family oriented, began using drugs and alcohol after his father’s death by suicide in 2015. He said they tried to get David treatment but the pandemic made that impossible.

He said he believes that if his nephew would have received help the shooting would have never happened. He later turned to Bialke’s family and said “We are really sorry for your loss.”


David Donnell spoke from a prepared statement taking responsibility for his actions and said he was remorseful. He also said that an intercepted recording of him bragging about killing Bialke was just posturing — a way for him to handle being in jail.

Imposing the sentence Chief U.S. District Judge John R. Tunheim said, "The sentence has to reflect the seriousness of this crime and it does."

As Donnell was being led out of court family members said, "We love you." Donnell responded, "Sorry." They answered with another, "We love you."

Outside the courthouse Bialke’s mother initially said, “No comment,” before quietly saying justice had not been done.

When asked what he thought a suitable sentence would have been the victim’s older brother, Jeremy Bialke said, “Life … I feel it would have been justified.”

Bialke was not a member of the Red Lake Nation, but he had married a member just two months before he was killed.  He is the first Red Lake tribal officer killed in the line of duty. Bialke leaves behind a wife and four children.