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A police officer shot and killed a man who rammed his police SUV Sunday night in St. Paul’s Midway neighborhood.

The man got out of the vehicle and “initiated a physical confrontation,” a police statement said. During the ensuing fight, the officer shot the man, who died at the scene.

A car with a heavily damaged front end sat directly behind the SUV at the scene.

Earlier, a voice was heard over emergency dispatch audio saying: “Drop the knife! Drop the knife!”

“Shots fired! Shots fired!” the same voice then said. “One has been shot.”

The shooting comes as police grapple with what Police Chief Todd Axtell last week called a stretch of unprecedented violence in the city. He mobilized his entire department and beefed up patrols on the streets.

In a Facebook post Sunday night, Axtell said the officer was “faced with one of the most gut-wrenching situations imaginable.” He extended condolences to the man who died and said the Police Department will do what it can to support the officer. He also said the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating.

Into the evening at the scene, a handful of activists walked along the police tape, filming live feeds and encouraging people to demand to see body camera footage.

Body camera activated

Police spokesman Mike Ernster said the officer was wearing a body camera, which was activated. He confirmed that the officer said “drop the knife” but did not say if the man had one. The officer was placed on administrative leave.

The shooting happened around 5:50 p.m. near the intersection of Thomas Avenue W. and N. Griggs Street. Police said the officer was not injured.

As police investigated, Ron Sanderson stood on his front steps looking out at the scene.

“Like anything, this could have happened anywhere,” he said. “I saw the [police] lights and honestly assumed it was just a traffic stop at first.”

The incident comes in the wake of a nine-hour stretch of violence early last week that unfolded across three different neighborhoods and took three lives, including a man acting as a good Samaritan. At a news conference with Mayor Melvin Carter and community leaders Tuesday, Axtell called the fatal shootings shocking and outrageous.

Five additional officers are now patrolling each shift. Investigators are pivoting to gun violence cases, and reserve officers and St. Paul’s Law Enforcement Career Path Academy are knocking on doors and talking to residents.

Sunday’s fatal shooting is the 189th officer-involved fatality in Minnesota since 2000. Four officer-involved shootings have occurred this summer alone. Most recently, Brian Quinones, 30, was fatally shot on Sept. 7 in an incident involving officers from Edina and Richfield.

Vigil interrupted

A few officials left the Unite Against Gun Violence vigil at 6 p.m. Sunday to respond to the shooting, which was about 3 ½ miles away. The vigil drew about three dozen people, many of whom shared stories of how they’d personally been affected by gun violence in St. Paul.

Dora Jones-Robinson led the group in prayer, pleading for no gun deaths in 2020.

“It’s our responsibility,” she said. “The more visible we are, the more we can make sure gun violence stops.”

Darlene Walsh has been attending similar rallies and vigils for the past two years, since her then 10-year-old grandson witnessed a shooting just outside her home near Front and Western avenues. Her grandson is still afraid to play in her yard, she said.

Another young girl at the vigil quietly told the group about seeing men trade guns near her home and about her uncle who was recently shot and killed.

Walsh and her neighbor, Lynn Connolly, said the event attracted more than they had seen at previous vigils.

“This is a right-now crisis,” Connolly said. “We are standing together to say ‘no more.’ ”

Staff writers Erin Adler and Paul Walsh contributed to this report.