A St. Cloud police officer was shot in the hand early Monday by a teenager who was resisting arrest, an encounter that ignited rumors of two black men being hit by police gunfire followed by swift rebuttals from civic leaders.
The encounter with the 18-year-old occurred about 12:10 a.m. and ended in the 1000 block of S. 10th Avenue, according to police. The officer was hospitalized with noncritical injuries.
The shooting comes in the midst of global outrage over the deaths of two black men in recent weeks during encounters with white police officers. Three weeks ago in Minneapolis, George Floyd died after officer Derek Chauvin kept his knee pinned to Floyd’s neck for roughly 8 minutes. Late last week, a white police officer in Atlanta chased and fatally shot a black man.
In connection with the St. Cloud shooting, rumors were quickly posted on social media that two black men had been shot by officers, and a large and at times unruly crowd assembled outside police headquarters overnight, said Police Chief Blair Anderson.
The building “did experience some damage [from] people throwing rocks,” the chief said. Officers directed tear gas and chemical irritants to disperse the crowd, and four arrests were made for minor offenses, he said.
Anderson expressed frustration with the role social media had in spreading the rumors.
“It’s very dangerous,” he said during a news conference at police headquarters. “This is the type of thing that could have escalated. ... This place could have been on fire over a lie.”
Denise Fale, president of the St. Cloud chapter of the NAACP, said the chief came to her about “the miscommunication” circulating in the community.
Word of “two young African-American males being shot ... was not the case,” Fale said at the police news conference.
Fale went on to praise how police responded at the scene, saying, “The young man had a gun. ... The officers could have shot him, but [they] showed a tremendous amount of restraint.”
The Rev. James Alberts, pastor at the Church of God in Christ in St. Cloud, addressed at the same news conference the trouble that bubbled up outside police headquarters.
“We are sitting in an unprecedented time,” Alberts said, pointing to global protests over police in the United States killing black men and women. “The community is rightfully concerned, but there is no one dead here today. We are thankful.
“I am thankful that our police department did not follow in some of the footsteps that we have seen around the country. It is possible to police and not kill.”
St. Cloud officers do not wear body cameras, Anderson said. Department squad cars have dash cameras, but those at the scene did not record the incident, the BCA said. Investigators will review nearby video surveillance and video from cameras on police Tasers for evidence, the agency said.
According to a statement police released a few hours after the shooting and a follow-up statement from the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA):
Officers were attempting to stop and detain the suspect at a gas station for what Anderson later said was a suspicion that he had a gun. The suspect ran, and officers soon caught up with him near S. 10th Avenue and University Drive.
“At that point, the suspect physically resisted arrest,” a statement from police read.
During the suspect’s struggle with police, he drew a handgun and got off a shot that hit one of the officers in the hand.
No officers returned fire while subduing the teen and arresting him. The suspect suffered what appeared to be a cut during his arrest. He also was taken to a hospital and was in stable condition.
One gun was recovered at the scene and another in a nearby residential yard.
Police identified the suspect and said he lives in St. Cloud. The Star Tribune generally does not identify suspects before they are charged.
The wounded officer is a 14-year veteran of the St. Cloud Police Department, and he is among four officers on the force now on standard paid administrative leave. Their identities will be released, the BCA said, once initial interviews with them have been completed.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482