Third fatal shooting of officer in Minnesota is most in state in 40+ years

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The Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Thursday became the third Minnesota officer killed by gunfire this year, the most in more than 40 years.

The homicide of officer Jamal Mitchell happened at a time of increased assaults on officers in the state. A Minneapolis officer was also wounded in Thursday’s shooting, at least the third Minnesota officer to be injured by gunfire this year.

On average, 388 officers were assaulted each year in Minnesota in the decade up to 2019. There were an average of 1,065 officers assaulted annually between 2020 and last year, according to statistics maintained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Most of the assaults resulted in minor or no injuries, but some officers paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“We know that attacks on police officers are on the rise in Minnesota and across the country,” Minneapolis Police Chief Brian O’Hara said early Friday. “Jamal just happened to be the latest victim of this senseless and troubling trend. It’s become too easy to attack our police and it needs to stop”

From left, Minneapolis police officer Jamal Mitchell, Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge and firefighter/paramedic Adam Finseth. (Courtesy of the Minneapolis Police Department and the city of Burnsville)

A gunman opened fire in February in Burnsville, killing Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, who were both 27, and Burnsville firefighter/paramedic Adam Finseth, 40. Another Burnsville police officer was wounded.

The last time three officers were killed by gunfire in Minnesota in a single year was 1982, according to information from the national Officer Down Memorial Page. That year, Roseville officer Bruce Russell, Oakdale officer Richard Walton and Wayzata Sgt. James Anderson died in separate incidents.

On Aug. 26, 1994, two St. Paul officers — Ron Ryan Jr. and Timothy Jones — were killed by the same man.

Prior to the Burnsville shootings, Pope County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Owen was fatally shot last year and Red Lake Nation Police Officer Ryan Bialke was killed by gunfire in 2021. Before then, a Minnesota law enforcement officer hadn’t died in a shooting homicide since 2015.

There have been other fatal shootings of law enforcement recently in the region — an Algona, Iowa, officer in September, a Fargo, N.D., officer in July, and three officers in western Wisconsin on two days in April and May 2023.

Other shootings have injured officers

In St. Paul, a man shot and wounded a police officer in the ankle in December, a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy was hurt by shrapnel when someone shot at him with a rifle in March, and a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy was shot and injured in an exchange of gunfire in April.

The MN 100 Club, a nonprofit organization that provides emergency financial assistance to first responders or their families if they’re killed or critically injured in the line of duty, provided more than $230,000 last year to families of 14 Minnesota first responders.

“We have given over $250,000 to 10 first responders and their families already in 2024, far exceeding any amount our club has ever given,” said club treasurer Bill Kozlak. “Sadly, it’s a reflection of the ever-increasing danger first responders face.”

Around the U.S., 22 officers have been killed by gunfire this year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page (ODMP). That was the cause of death in 49 deaths of law enforcement officers last year, 66 officers in both 2021 and 2022, and 52 officers in 2020.

In 1982, the year three officers were fatally shot in Minnesota, 98 officers were killed by gunfire around the U.S., according to ODMP. In 1994, when Ryan and Jones were killed in St. Paul, 87 officers were fatally shot across the nation.

The last time a Minneapolis officer was shot and killed in the line of duty was Melissa Schmidt in 2002; she was one of 60 officers fatally shot around the country that year.

“It’s a really hard job and it’s really hard with lots of guns on the street,” Gov. Tim Walz said Thursday night. “And it’s really hard if those folks can’t feel us unified behind them to make sure that we’re providing every single thing” for them to do their jobs “to protect all of us, but to protect themselves. Their families deserve to know they’re coming home.”

Late Thursday night, two St. Paul officers were injured when they responded to a domestic call in a Dayton’s Bluff apartment building. They tried to arrest a 37-year-old man for interference with a 911 call, but he grabbed an officer’s Taser and tried to grab the officer’s gun, according to charges filed Friday. Officers struggled with the man, and one officer suffered a broken leg and another suffered a cut to his elbow.

The Ramsey County attorney’s office charged the man with attempt to disarm a peace officer and two counts of assaulting a peace officer.

“There has been a massive increase in assaults on police officers,” said St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry on Friday. “The events of the last 24 hours in Minneapolis illustrate this at its very worst. … The police officers in this state will never fail to answer the calls for help. We need to stand with them, now more than ever.”

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