ST. PAUL -- Minnesota’s attorney general announced Friday, Dec. 4, that he’ll make a decision about whether to file charges against a St. Paul officer who shot and wounded a man after the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigation is complete.
Joseph Washington, a 31-year-old who police were searching for last Saturday night because he was accused of an assault with a knife, was hospitalized after Officer Tony Dean shot him. Police Chief Todd Axtell terminated the officer, pending the grievance process, according to a law enforcement source. Washington was naked and unarmed, according to Axtell.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Tuesday that he asked the state attorney general and the Washington County Attorney’s office to review the case because he “believes it is important for another office that does not regularly work with the SPPD to make the prosecutorial decisions in this matter.”
Choi and the county attorneys for Dakota, Washington, Anoka and Hennepin counties signed an agreement in June, saying if there were any cases in their counties of an officer using deadly force resulting in death, they would ask another prosecutor to review the case to determine if the officer should be charged.
“In essence, until the (Legislature) acts to place these cases in the Attorney General’s Office, we will not review and/or prosecute such a case arising out of our own jurisdiction,” said the agreement, which is in place until next June or until the Legislature accepts their recommendation.
The Minnesota County Attorneys Association voted in June to give the attorney general’s office the authority to handle all situations of police-involved deaths, as is the case against the four former Minneapolis police officers involved George Floyd’s death in May.
AG, Washington County to review shooting
Attorney General Keith Ellison said Friday that he and Washington County Attorney Pete Orput agreed to jointly review the shooting by the St. Paul officer. Ellison is appointing Assistant Washington County Attorney Scott Haldeman as a special assistant attorney general to review the case with his office when the BCA completes its investigation.
“I take my responsibility as a partner to county attorneys seriously,” Ellison said in a statement. “Since I’ve become Attorney General, I’ve repeatedly asked the Legislature for more resources so that my office can serve county attorneys even more than we already do. When a county attorney asks us to take over a sensitive case — particularly when another county attorney is providing the resources, and particularly when doing so will improve public trust in the criminal-justice system — I will give that request my fullest consideration.”
The Dakota County Attorney’s Office charged Washington on Tuesday with sexual assaulting, kidnapping and assaulting an ex-girlfriend on Saturday night. The criminal complaint said he had a knife and threatened to kill the woman while live-streaming the sexual assault in Lakeville, and then he forced her to drive to St. Paul.
After he fled from a crash, police said they found Washington hiding in a dumpster in the North End.
When Washington ran toward officers, they “deployed Tasers and a K9 in an effort to stop him,” police said in a statement early Sunday. Dean shot Washington, who sustained three gunshot wounds to his legs and one to the abdomen; he also had a dog bite wound to his right leg, according to an emergency radio transmission from Saturday night.
The BCA said no weapons were found at the site of the shooting or the dumpster. Axtell released a 42-second video clip on Tuesday from the officer’s body-worn camera.
Robert Paule, Dean’s attorney, said in a Wednesday statement, that the short video didn’t show the “many attempts by law enforcement to de-escalate the situation using a variety of non-lethal methods, (which) were unsuccessful and the suspect did not cooperate.”
Paule also said that Washington “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.
“At this point, Officer Dean was acting as a cover officer and discharged his firearm to protect his fellow officers and himself,” the statement continued. “The information he had at the scene was an understanding that the suspect claimed to have a gun and had used a knife earlier that evening in a violent assault and rape.”