Duluth police officer not guilty after shooting through apartment door, wounding man

22 April 2022

DULUTH — A jury delivered a quick not-guilty verdict Friday in the historic trial of Tyler Leibfried, believed to be the first Duluth police officer to be charged with a crime for a shooting in the line of duty.

Leibfried, 30, was acquitted of two felony charges for a 2020 shooting in which he wounded a man as he fired six times through a door at a downtown apartment building. The St. Louis County jury received the case about 11:30 a.m. after closing arguments and delivered its verdict at 3 p.m.

Surrounded by friends and family who hugged and congratulated him, Leibfried declined to comment, but could be heard saying he was going to celebrate with a special bottle of whiskey.

“We’re delighted with the verdict. It was fair,” said Minneapolis attorney Paul Engh, who defended the officer. “Being a police officer is extraordinarily difficult and dangerous. That officer is required to make split-second decisions in life-or-death situations.

“These are challenging cases,” Engh added. “The stakes are enormous. A career is in the balance. Things are extraordinarily difficult for police, and unfairly so.”

Leibfried is the latest officer to stand trial for the high-profile shooting of a civilian, although his is different in that the victim survived.

Previously, five officers have been tried in state court for killing a civilian on the job. Two of them, Jeronimo Yanez and Brian Krook, were acquitted. Mohamed Noor, Derek Chauvin and Kimberly Potter were convicted.

In closing arguments at Leibfried’s trial Friday morning, jurors saw a study in contrasts, with a cool and calm prosecutor facing off against a fiery defense attorney.

Pounding the lectern, raising his voice and waving his arms, Engh beseeched the seven men and five women to issue a not-guilty verdict.

“You are to decide the fate of another human being,” Engh said. “There’s no greater responsibility than that.”

By contrast, prosecutor Aaron Welch had the air of a college professor as he led the jury through a summary of events, complete with a detailed slide show on the large screens in the courtroom.

“Rules are important. Everyone has to follow the rules,” Welch said. “It’s what this whole building is based on.”

Leibfried was charged with second-degree assault and intentional discharge of a firearm endangering others. The charges were filed after he shot Jared Fyle through the door of Fyle’s apartment at the Kingsley Heights apartment building.

Leibfried was responding to a report of a domestic argument and met Fyle’s girlfriend at the scene. She told Leibfried she was fine, according to court documents, but that she wanted help getting her belongings from Fyle’s apartment.

Leibfried and another officer had made their way to the third-floor apartment when Fyle pounded his door shut with a hatchet and turned the deadbolt. Believing the two bangs he heard were gunshots, Leibfried opened fire through the door, testimony showed.

He shot four times, according to witnesses. Then, after a pause in which Fyle screamed at him to stop, he shot twice more. Fyle was wounded and still has a bullet in his back, Welch said.

Welch argued that Leibfried’s actions weren’t reasonable under the circumstances. Even if one accepts that he had the right to open fire initially, Welch said, the final two shots were indefensible.

“He has fired four shots,” Welch said. “Now he hears a man begging him to stop. He didn’t ask him if he was OK. Didn’t order him to drop [his weapon].

“He just kept shooting.”

Engh asked the jurors to put themselves in Leibfried’s shoes. The Kingsley Heights apartments are known as a dangerous place, he said.

“This is a real dump,” he said. “They’d had shootings there.” Leibfried was in a narrow hallway, which Engh repeatedly referred to as a “funnel of death.”

What’s more, he reminded jurors, Leibfried was at a scene where in 2019 a fellow officer was shot and a police dog was killed.

“These people are heroes of modern time,” Engh said. “They’re all taking chances for the community.

“My request to you is, let the angel of truth come to us today.”

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