Criminal charges will not be filed against St. Louis Park police officer for fatal shooting

Friday,

A St. Louis Park police officer will not be charged in the shooting death of a man who resisted arrest while holed up in his girlfriend’s bedroom, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced Friday.

Officer Samuel Heffernan was within the law when he shot Matthew Neil Tuhkanen on Jan. 19, 2019 in an apartment at 2760 Louisiana Court after negotiations. The report on Tuhkanen’s death concluded that he “…suddenly reached toward a blind spot, causing the officers to reasonably believe that he was reaching for a gun or other concealed weapon. Accordingly, Officer Heffernan had an objectively reasonable belief that Mr. Tuhkanen posed an apparent threat of great bodily harm or death to multiple people.”

The fatal shooting was investigated by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office. St. Louis Park police officers were not issued body-worn cameras at the time so there was no video or audio of the incident.

“All of these cases are a tragedy for the family of the victim, for the officers on the scene and for the community,” Freeman said. “But Mr. Tuhkanen had frightened his girlfriend to the point where she could barely speak. The confined space and Mr. Tuhkanen’s refusal to obey police commands and his sudden movement toward a hidden area gave the officers every reason to believe he was reaching for a weapon.”

The incident began with a 911 phone call from Tuhkanen’s girlfriend, identified as M.W., just after 5 p.m. The two had an on and off relationship for five years and a child together who was living with M.W.

When M.W. called, she informed the operator that Tuhkanen was in her apartment and they had been arguing but he had not hurt her. She added that he had three warrants out for his arrest for parole violations in Anoka County.

Heffernan, who had been a police officer for six years, arrived at the apartment about the same time as another squad car. The officers saw a man run out the back door but when Heffernan yelled “Police, stop,” the man ran back into the apartment. Ultimately, five officers arrived and they determined Tuhkanen had run up to the third floor but could not find him.

Unable to locate Tuhkanen, Heffernan agreed to watch the building but soon had to respond to another call elsewhere in St. Louis Park.

Just before 6 p.m., a woman who lived on the second floor of the apartment building, across the hall from M.W., called 911 to report that Tuhkanen was back in M.W.’s apartment. Heffernan and three other officers arrived. They knocked on the door and M.W. eventually answered. Officer Troy Peek told investigators that she was pale, trembling, had watery eyes and could only whisper “he’s back there,” waving in the direction of the apartment.

The officers checked the apartment and concluded he must be in the bedroom. Officers Peek and Anthony Pacholke had their Tasers out and Heffernan had his gun in his hand. Peek got on the floor and opened the door. The room had a dresser and a bed and Peek saw Tuhkanen in the corner by the dresser.

All the officers entered the room and formed a line facing Tuhkanen. Officer Peek stood on the bed. Officer Heffernan had his gun out but pointed down alongside his leg. The officers shouted for Tuhkanen to show his hands. He didn’t totally comply but at one point he removed his zippered sweatshirt jacket and tossed it aside and was moving his hands so the officers could see them.

Another time, Tuhkanen hid his left hand and when he showed it again, there was something in it. The officers ordered him drop it and he yelled at them it was just a lighter and placed it on the dresser. A short time later, he produced a cigarette and lit it with the lighter.

Throughout the confrontation, Tuhkanen was agitated and yelling. He said the police had no right to be in the apartment but they told him he was going to be arrested because of the warrant and because he ran from them. He demanded to see his girlfriend. The officers told him no.

By now Officer Pacholke had holstered his Taser and was prepared to go towards Tuhkanen at the right time and put the handcuffs on him. Tuhkanen continued to put his left hand in his pocket, take it out, sometimes to tap cigarette ash into it, then put the hand back into the pocket. At one point, Officer Heffernan told him if he didn’t follow the orders the officers were giving him, he would be shot.

Instead, Tuhkanen crouched down, turned toward the dresser with a hand on his waistband and then made a jerking motion with his left hand. He leaned into an area the officers couldn’t see and they all told investigators they thought Tuhkanen was going to pick up something from the area the officers couldn’t see.

Heffernan fired four shots, two of which struck Tuhkanen in his torso and two which hit his right arm. Twelve minutes after the officers arrived outside the apartment building, the encounter ended when, at 6:16 p.m., Heffernan radioed “shots fired.”

Minnesota law and U.S. Supreme Court decisions allow police officers to use deadly force if a reasonable officer would conclude that he or others were in danger of death or great bodily harm from the suspect. In this case, because Tuhkanen appeared to be reaching for something in an area the officers could not see, Heffernan was justified in shooting. It was only later that police could determine that Tuhkanen had no weapons.

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Investigative Materials

The materials disclosed by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office today are public investigative materials particularly relevant to the charging decision in this case.  Other information collected in the case that also became public data at the conclusion of this investigation may be cumulative and are not posted on this website.  Any requests for additional data should be referred to the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office, the investigating agency in this case.

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Click here to read the Hennepin County Attorney's Report

Click here to view photos. 

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Audio Files (WMA)

- 911 Calls Received from the St. Louis Park Police Department

- Officer Radio Traffic

- 911 Fire Dispatch Traffic

- 911 Fire Dispatch Traffic St. Louis Park Fire Department

Audio Files (MP3)

- 911 Calls Received from the St. Louis Park Police Department

- Officer Radio Traffic

- 911 Fire Dispatch Traffic

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- 911 Calls List Received from St. Louis Park Police Department

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Reports

- St. Louis Park Police Department Redacted

- St. Louis Park Police Department Command Log Redacted

- St. Louis Park Police Department Fire Report (Transcriptions)

- St. Louis Park Police Department Fire Report Redacted

- Civilian Interviews Redacted

- Edina Police Department

- Golden Valley Assist Report

- Minnetonka Police Department

- Taser Reports

- Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Incident Report Redacted

- Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Supplemental Report

- Radio Traffic Reports and Statements Redacted

- Search Warrants Redacted

- Officer Interview Transcriptions Report Redacted

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Transcript(s)

- Edina Police Department, Officer Elissa Kapala

- Golden Valley Police Department, Officer Sean Hartneck

- Hopkins Police Department, Officer Nathan Hanson

- Minnetonka Police Department, Joseph Mace

- Minnetonka Police Department, Tim Olson

- Police Officer Jeffrey Stoll Redacted

- St. Louis Park Firefighter Nate Buckner

- William Acker

- St. Louis Park Firefighters Redacted

- St. Louis Park Police Officers

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Hennepin County Sheriff's Office Crime Lab

- Reports

- Physical Evidence List

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- Sketch

- Critical Incident Public Safety Statement Questions

- St. Louis Park Police Department Use of Force Policy

- St. Louis Park Police Department Use of Force and Critical Incident Policy

- Taser (Heffernan)

- Taser (Pacholke)

- Taser (Peek)

- Taser (Smith)