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A Dakota County grand jury concluded that an Eagan police officer was legally justified in the deadly shooting of a man in August.

Sgt. Nathan Tennessen and two other officers responded to a man shooting a handgun near a townhouse complex at 1284 Ironwood Lane about noon Aug. 28.

They approached the car of Justin Lee Kulhanek-Derks. He started backing out of a parking spot, ignored verbal commands from the officers to exit the vehicle, and fired a handgun in the direction of the officers. Two of the three Eagan officers fired their assault rifles in response and a shot fired by Tennessen hit Kulhanek-Derks in the head, killing him.

Officers approached the vehicle, found Kulhanek-Derks slumped over in the driver's seat with a 9-millimeter handgun in his left hand. Toxicology tests revealed that he had a blood alcohol concentration of .17 at the time of his death.

In a news release, Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom said that it has been the policy of his office since 1990 to present all cases involving the use of deadly force by a law enforcement officer to a grand jury to determine whether such deadly force was legally justified under Minnesota law.

In order to bring charges against a peace officer for using deadly force in the line of duty, the prosecution must be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force was not justified and that the intentional firing of a weapon was deadly force.

The question is whether the peace officer's actions are "objectively reasonable" in light of the facts and a circumstance confronting the officer, without regard to the officer's underlying intent or motivation, Backstrom said.

Backstrom expressed his sympathy to the family and friends of Kulhanek-Derks. Although the grand jury determined that the use of deadly force by police was legally justified, any loss of life is a tragic occurrence, he said.

Backstrom also extended his concern for the well-being of the officers involved in this incident and their families as they deal with and process the emotional impact of a life being taken in the line of duty.

"Law enforcement officers are trained to protect and serve our communities each and every day. Unfortunately there are times when officers are placed in a situation where they must use deadly force to protect themselves and the public," he said.

Tennessen, who has been on the force for 18 years, received an award of merit from the department in 2003 for his community relations work at a substation in a high-crime area.

David Chanen • 612-673-4465