A federal appellate court has ruled that a jury should decide a lawsuit brought against three Woodbury police officers who shot and killed a 19-year-old St. Paul man after he escaped a 2012 hostage situation, according to documents filed Nov. 28.
The decision by the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reverses a previous ruling by a U.S. District Court judge and follows a February 2017 appeal filed by Mark Eric Henderson's mother, Tawana Henderson.
The three officers, Natalie Bauer, Stacey Krech and Anthony Ofstead, were sued individually and in their official capacities. The suit alleged wrongful death, excessive force and indifference of Henderson's civil rights.
Henderson was one of several people attending a party at the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury when another man, Demetrius Ballinger, pulled out a gun, robbed the guests and held them hostage. Henderson ran from the motel room and was initially fired at by officers, after which they said he dropped to the ground. But after seeing movement from his right arm and torso, they said, the officers fired at him 17 more times. Henderson was struck by 12 bullets and died shortly afterward.
In her civil suit, Tawana Henderson contended the officers should have known they were dealing with a hostage situation and been able to differentiate between Ballinger and Henderson. The officers argued Henderson, who was unarmed, had been non-compliant and the use of deadly force had been reasonable. The district court sided with the officers and issued them immunity.
However, the appeals court determined the district court failed to consider comments made by Krech to a special agent on scene the day of the shooting. According to documents, Krech said Henderson had complied with their orders not to move after the first round of shots.
The appeals court said this discrepancy - whether Henderson complied with officers or not - was best left to a jury.