ST. PAUL — The St. Paul officer who shot an unarmed man did so “to protect his fellow officers and himself” and because he had information that the suspect “claimed to have a gun and had used a knife earlier that evening in a violent assault and rape,” his attorney said Wednesday, Dec. 2.
Tony Dean, whom the police chief has terminated, was an award-winning officer who reached his dream of becoming a cop in his hometown.
Dean, who graduated in 2001 from St. Paul’s Central High School, was a U.S. Marine for eight years and Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office correctional officer before he was hired as a St. Paul officer in 2014.
Police Chief Todd Axtell said Tuesday that he’d “taken swift, decisive and serious action to address” the Saturday night shooting, but he said state law prevented him from saying what the action was. A law enforcement source confirmed that Axtell fired the officer, pending the grievance process.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the agency investigating the shooting, identified the officer as Dean. The man he shot, Joseph Javonte Washington, remained hospitalized Wednesday and was charged with sexual assaulting, kidnapping and assaulting an ex-girlfriend, which led to the manhunt for him in St. Paul.
Axtell released a 42-second video clip on Tuesday from the officer’s body-worn camera.
“Many attempts by law enforcement to de-escalate the situation using a variety of non-lethal methods were unsuccessful and the suspect did not cooperate,” Dean’s attorney, Robert Paule, said in a statement on Wednesday. “These attempts were not shown in the short body camera video just released.”
Paule also said the “suspect claimed to have a gun and threatened to use it against responding officers, saying, ‘I have a gun in here.’ The suspect also exited the dumpster and charged at the retreating police officers, even rounding a corner at them rather than attempting to escape.”
Axtell said Tuesday that Washington was naked and unarmed. There were no weapons found at the site of the shooting or the dumpster, according to the BCA.
From patrol officer to gang unit
Dean, who initially was a St. Paul patrol officer, was assigned to the gang unit since 2018. He had three past complaints against him as a St. Paul officer, none of which resulted in discipline after internal affairs investigations, according to police records.
The Minnesota American Legion named Dean as officer of the year in 2016 and Axtell gave him the department’s life-saving award for working with other officers to save a woman who was trying to jump from a bridge in April.
Axtell honored Dean and the gang unit at the start of the year, writing in January that they “displayed diligence, teamwork, professionalism and exemplary investigative work over the past few years” in federal prosecutions against more than 50 people related to firearms crimes involving gang members.
“Officer Dean has led an exemplary career as a law enforcement officer, and has received recognition and accolades for his compassion, commitment to community, and his mentorship of youth in St. Paul,” said Paul Kuntz, St. Paul police union president, in a statement Wednesday.
NAACP calls for investigation
About 30 people marched on Rice Street on Wednesday night to the place where Washington was shot. Trahern Crews, lead organizer with Black Lives Matter Minnesota, said he was glad the officer had been fired and body-camera footage released, and he said it should be standard protocol in Minnesota to do so swiftly.
“Now the next step is the officer being arrested, just like me or you would be arrested” and charged, Crews said.
The St. Paul NAACP said in a statement Wednesday that they expect “to see a thorough and prompt BCA investigation of this incident and appropriate consequences and accountability toward the officer involved.” Washington is Black.
“Anytime one of our St. Paul officers shoots an unclothed, unarmed man — after a K-9 dog has been turned on him and he has been inundated by a taser, then shot twice by that officer — is of grave concern to the NAACP and all citizens of this community,” the statement said.
NAACP leaders said they appreciated Axtell’s “no tolerance approach to the unjustified use of force.”
City Council Member Mitra Jalali called what happened “a deeply disturbing incident.”
“While officers were responding to a confusing and chaotic series of events leading up to this moment, at the time he was shot, the victim was naked and had absolutely no possessions on his person, and the body cam footage released (Tuesday) portrays a traumatizing and deeply disturbing police response for anyone in our community watching it, including an SPPD K-9 dog attacking a naked man for several seconds and multiple shots being fired, with one shot even fired long after 3 other shots were settled,” she wrote in a statement.
Information about the past complaints against Dean from 2015, 2016 and 2019 aren’t public because they were not sustained. Dean and three other St. Paul officers were named in a federal lawsuit that a man filed in 2018, which a judge dismissed in July.
From Upward Bound to mentoring
Dean, who was born and raised in St. Paul, talked in 2016 about his path from a tumultuous home life as a youngster — where he said he often cared for his two sisters who were a decade younger than him — to getting involved in Upward Bound after a high school teacher nominated him.
Dean said Upward Bound offered him the structure to graduate from high school and prepared him to succeed in college.
He was mentoring students as of 2016 and said at the time, “I’m trying to help them to understand that I came from the same background as them and I made it out of my situation. I graduated, I worked very hard to get where I am. And I did that so I can be helpful to people and I can be good to people because a lot of people were good to me.”
Dean told people in the police department that Melvin Carter Jr., the retired St. Paul police sergeant who is the mayor’s father, was one of his inspirations to become an officer, according to a St. Paul Police Federation representative. Carter and his police partner would come into the Chevys restaurant in the Midway to eat, where Dean was then a 19-year-old server, and they would discuss police issues and what was required to be an officer.
When Dean won the Minnesota American Legion award, he’d been patrolling in St. Paul for a year and a half, but his boss said he “achieved what some might take a career to do,” describing him as compassionate and wanting to help people.
Axtell, who didn’t name Dean in talking about the shooting on Tuesday, said the officer “has served honorably in the past,” but he said officers “have a duty to use force only when required” and the officer’s actions were not reasonable or necessary.