A Minneapolis police officer was found not guilty of threatening to shoot his former sister-in-law.
Ramsey County District Court Judge Timothy Mulrooney acquitted James Lopez on Monday of one count of threats of violence in a bench trial.
A charge of fifth-degree assault was dropped.
Lopez's attorney, Robert Fowler, argued at a hearing last week that three witnesses said Lopez never threatened his then-sister-in-law. Assistant Ramsey County Attorney Hao Nguyen argued that the witnesses were no more credible than the alleged victim, Kelly Kelleher.
"The Court is unable to find that Kelly Kelleher's statement is more credible than those of the other witnesses," Mulrooney wrote in his decision. "The evidence does not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Defendant made the alleged threat."
"We're not surprised," Fowler said of the verdict. "Had the police and state done a scintilla of an investigation rather than just accept that the allegations were true, they would have been able to identify these witnesses and reached the same conclusion without the case being charged."
The original charges allege that Lopez's then-wife was packing to leave the family's St. Paul home with Kelleher on Oct. 16, 2017. Lopez allegedly threatened to shoot Kelleher.
The two women left the house and Kelleher reported the incident to police three hours later. In court last week, Fowler criticized police for not going to the family's home that night to interview Lopez and other witnesses. Nguyen said Kelleher called police once she was in a safe place.
The stipulated facts presented to Mulrooney show that another sister, Kathleen Kelleher, was also at the Lopez home. She told police that she, the sisters' mother and Lopez's daughter witnessed the argument. Lopez said he didn't like witches, referring to Kelly Kelleher's Wiccan beliefs, but he did not threaten Kelleher, the other sister said. The other witnesses corroborated her.
Lopez's then-wife obtained an emergency order for protection against him after the incident, detailing the events of Oct. 16 in her own words.
"[Lopez] threw a beer can at me and told me I better leave or he would kill me [too]," she wrote. "Last time he put a gun to my head, so this time I [knew] to leave. I believe he would shoot me this time."
Lopez filed for and was granted a divorce this year.
Lopez remains on paid administrative leave from Minneapolis police, where he has worked for about 25 years. Fowler said he believes Lopez will be allowed to return to work. Minneapolis police declined to comment Wednesday.
Chao Xiong • 612-270-4708 Twitter: @ChaoStrib