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Callers ‘frantic’ about aggressive man before St. Paul police fatally shot him

Police and fire crews respond to the scene of a fatal shooting at Wabasha Street and Plato Boiulevard in St. Paul on Thursday, August 28, 2014. St. Paul police fatally shot a man when he came at officers with a rock larger than a baseball, Chief Thomas Smith said. ST. PAUL PIONEER PRESS/Scott Takushi

ST. PAUL -- The man shot to death by St. Paul police Thursday morning on the West Side set off “frantic” 911 calls with his aggressive behavior and came at officers with a rock, police said.

Before police arrived, he was bloodied and smashing car windows with a pipe, they said. One 911 caller said the man was “gonna hurt somebody,” according to a transcript released by police.

Police Chief Thomas Smith said the two officers who confronted the suspect feared for their lives as he ignored orders to stop and closed on them with a rock bigger than a baseball.

“You don’t always have to have a firearm or a knife to hurt somebody,” he said.

Neither officer was hurt. They’re on administrative leave, which is standard procedure.

The names of neither the man nor the officers have been released. A police spokesman said they were working to identify the suspect.

Smith said the officers responded after 6 a.m. to 911 calls about a man violently smashing windows. He had a pipe, was throwing rocks and at one point attacked a school bus, the chief said. He didn’t know if children were present.

The caller in the transcript released by police described the man smashing the window of his car as he sat in it near Jerry’s Service Center at Robert and Cesar Chavez streets.

“I was sitting in the car reading the paper and he come up and started smashing,” the caller said.

The man was walking and running up the street and through the neighborhood during the incident, the caller said. At one point, the caller told dispatchers: “He’s gotta be high on something.”

Smith said the man wasn’t “just walking down the street throwing pebbles,” but menacing the neighborhood. The number and tone of 911 calls received “tell us that we were very fortunate today” that no one else was hurt, he said.

Witnesses reported seeing a man struggling with officers before police shot him on Wabasha Street, near Plato Boulevard.

Two baristas at Grumpy Steve’s Coffee on Wabasha Street, Kelsey Goergen and Jenna Johnson, said they saw some of what happened from the coffee shop’s window about 6:30 a.m.

They saw a police car pull up with its lights flashing and try to cut off a man running toward a gas station at the corner, they said.

The man turned toward the two officers as they got out of the squad car; he looked as if he was flailing his arms and it appeared he tried to kick one of the officers, Johnson said.

“They kind of got in a physical scuffle,” she said.

“One of the officers looked like he tried to grab him, almost had him,” Goergen said. “The guy got away.”

She said the man appeared to be acting aggressively and “it looked like he was ... trying to get away and then he changed his mind and he was kind of charging at them.”

Another witness told other media outlets that the man punched an officer and was throwing what appeared to be rocks. An officer pulled his gun and backed up, and the man ran toward him, the witness said.

“He got probably 5 feet away before the officer, ‘Pop, pop, pop,’ ” the man told KSTP-TV. “He fell to the ground.”

Goergen and Johnson said they walked closer to the front window and then saw the man drop. They were standing under the coffee shop’s music speakers and didn’t hear anything.

The women said they didn’t realize the man had been shot. They assumed police had used a Taser on him, but then “it became pretty apparent that he wasn’t moving,” Goergen said.

Dave Titus, St. Paul Police Federation president, said: “A Taser’s an imperfect tool. The threat was immediate. That’s why deadly force was necessary.”

The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.