Wrongful death trial against 2 Mpls officers continuesby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — The second day of testimony in the wrongful death trial of two Minneapolis police officers begins Tuesday morning in federal court in Minneapolis.
Officers Jason King and Lawrence Loonsfoot are accused of using unnecessary force when they shot and killed Dominic Felder in 2006. Felder's mother filed the lawsuit after the death of her son, who was unarmed during the incident.
The attorney for Felder's mother, Jim Behrenbrinker portrayed the officers as being "reckless" and "gun happy" during his hour-long opening statement on the first day of the trial. He said officers King and Loonsfoot opted to use deadly force in a situation that didn't warrant it.
Behrenbrinker said Felder was experiencing a nervous breakdown and needed help. When the officers approached Felder, he walked up to the squad car and said he wanted to talk to them, Behrenbrinker said.
When the officers told Felder they wanted to search him, Behrenbrinker says Felder lifted his shirt to show them he was unarmed. Felder slowly jogged across the street, but then stopped and slowly walked back toward the officers.
Behrenbrinker detailed some of the evidence to be presented later in the trial, including the officers' statements given to police officials after the shooting. The officers claimed that as they tried to handcuff Felder -- who was 5 feet 1 inch tall and weighed between 150 and 155 pounds -- he struggled with the officers and managed to grab King's gun.
King managed to shoot Felder first at close range, and Loonsfoot followed with six shots from a few feet away.
Behrenbrinker said the autopsy and forensic evidence show the officers' account could not have happened. At times, using gory details, Behrenbrinker described the gunshot wounds that killed Felder.
"Every shot is in conflict with the officer's testimony," he said.
At the end of Behrenbrinker's statement, U.S. District Judge David Doty told the jury that the plaintiff's counsel offered more of a closing argument than an opening statement.
"This goes well beyond the usual opening statement," he told the jury, adding that he would give the defense team wider latitude to describe their case.
Assistant City Attorney Sara Lathrop kept her statement in defense of officers King and Loonsfoot short. Lathrop said the officers were right to suspect Felder had a gun.
"Police can't take a suspect's word that they don't have a weapon," she said.
And because Felder jogged away from them before the officers could search him, Lathrop said the officers had to assume he was armed.
The officers saw Felder repeatedly reach into his waistband as he jogged away from them, Lathrop said. She said the result of the confrontation was tragic, but that the evidence would show that Felder did grab officer King's gun.
The plaintiffs called Felder's girlfriend Tiana Wilson to the stand. Wilson said on the night he was killed, Felder was not himself -- he paced around their home afraid that someone was out to kill him.
When officers King and Loonsfoot arrived, Wilson said she told them not to shoot Felder. She said he was "mental and didn't have anything on him."
Wilson said she stood across the street from where the officers confronted Felder but said in her testimony that she didn't see Felder grab one of the officer's guns. Wilson said it was dark, but she could see the officers lift Felder off the ground. Seconds later, seven shots rang out and Felder lay on the ground dead.
The trial is expected to last until early next week.
- All Things Considered, 10/19/2010, 5:50 p.m.