Video shows rifle aimed at trooper, just before he shoots suspect

ST. PAUL - Minnesota State Trooper Travis Pearson followed a car driven by a suspect in a shooting incident down a tree-lined rural St. Louis County driveway, with his nearest law enforcement backup several minutes away.

Frame taken from video
This frame from a Minnesota State Patrol car video shows Donnie Joe Lira raising his rifle and pointing it at a state trooper on June 12 at Lira's St. Louis County home. Trooper Travis Pearson fired 16 shots at Lira, killing him. The red at the top of the photo is a reflection of the trooper's flashing lights. Special to The Forum

ST. PAUL - Minnesota State Trooper Travis Pearson followed a car driven by a suspect in a shooting incident down a tree-lined rural St. Louis County driveway, with his nearest law enforcement backup several minutes away.

Donnie Joe Lira stopped his Chevrolet Cavalier, then stepped out of the car, rifle in hand. After Pearson's repeated demand that Lira drop the gun, Lira raised the rifle and aimed it at Pearson.

A video the Minnesota State Patrol released Wednesday abruptly ends there, but a patrol spokesman said the rest of the video shows Pearson firing 16 shots at Lira late on June 12, inflicting fatal wounds to the man who authorities said had just shot at a home, forcing his estranged wife and two children to duck for cover.

Patrol Capt. Matt Langer said the video, taken from a camera on the trooper's car dash, was released so the public can understand what a law enforcement officer can face.

While the video was fuzzy, it was clear that Lira aimed his rifle at Pearson from about 25 feet away.


Langer refused to release, or let reporters view, the portion of the video that showed Pearson shooting Lira.

A state and St. Louis County investigation said Pearson, a seven-year patrol veteran assigned to the Virginia district, was justified in the shooting.

"The ultimate decision was that the trooper had to use

his handgun," Langer said,

adding that it was a textbook case of an officer doing the right thing.

Langer told reporters that it was possible that Lira wanted to be killed in what is called a "suicide by police." However, Langer added, Lira was drunk at the time of the shooting and no one knows why he aimed his rifle at Pearson.

"It was not in a fit of rage," Langer said, because the video showed what appeared to be a calm Lira.

In 2009, 11 people were killed by Minnesota law enforcement officers and 10 were hurt. Officers fired 188 bullets on duty last year.


The most recent state trooper-involved shooting was last Dec. 2 in southeast Minnesota.

Lira, 66, of Cherry Township in St. Louis County, reportedly had fired three to five shots minutes earlier at the home where his estranged wife was staying with her children, ages 1 and 4. No one was hurt, but law enforcement officers described the home as "under attack."

Pearson was responding to a 911 call when he spotted Lira driving away from his wife's home, returning to his own home nearby.

The video released Wednesday opens on County Highway 25 at about 11:10 p.m. June 12 as Pearson turned on his car's flashing lights. Lira's car turned down his driveway on the left, Instead of stopping on the highway.

The tree-lined driveway can be seen illuminated by the trooper's car headlights and spotlight.

In front of Lira's isolated trailer home, the car stopped and, as Lira began to get out, it rolled backwards. Lira put on his brakes to stop the vehicle.

Pearson also stopped his car and began shouting at Lira.

"Show me your hands right now," Pearson shouted as movement could be seen in the Chevy's front seat.


As the barrel of a 7-mm rifle emerged from the open driver's door, Pearson five times yelled at Lira: "Drop the gun." On the sixth time, he added a comment: "Drop the gun, or I will kill you."

Lira slowly got out of his car, closing the driver's door behind him, and cocked the rifle, raising it to his shoulder and pointing it at the trooper.

The publicly released video stops there, but Langer said Pearson then fired the first of 16 shots from his pistol at Lira, not all hitting Lira. Langer said the shots came in two volleys.

At one point, Langer added, Lira fired his rifle, but did no damage and did not injure Pearson, who was the only law enforcement officer there. In the rural St. Louis County area, it took three or four more minutes for another officer to arrive, Langer said.

Lira later died at a nearby hospital.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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