'Entirely possible' that officers didn't fire first shot at victim, prosecutor says
An officer-involved shooting at the Red Roof Inn early Friday, Aug. 31, left an unarmed man dead and a Maplewood man in custody after a four-hour standoff.
Police officers were not hurt in the incident that they called a hostage situation and included "a lot of criminal activity," Woodbury Public Safety Director Lee Vague said.
The state Department of Public Safety announced late Friday that the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's Office identified the man killed as 19-year-old Mark E. Henderson of St. Paul. Henderson was not armed when police shot him, but they believed he was as he approached them and did not follow police commands, according to the Public Safety Department. He later died.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the officer-involved shooting investigation, also said police arrested a 25-year-old Maplewood man on suspicion of sexual misconduct, robbery and kidnapping in connection with the incident.
Three Woodbury police officers were placed on administrative leave following the shooting. They are: Anthony Ofstead, who's been with the department 11 years; Stacey Krech, a five-year veteran of the department; and Natalie Martin, who's been with Woodbury for two years.
The incident started when police were called to the Woodbury motel at about 1:10 a.m. Friday after Washington County dispatchers received an open 911 call, Vague said.
"The dispatcher was able to hear obvious signs of struggle. It sounded like there was mention of a weapon," he said.
According to the BCA announcement:
The officers encountered a man who pointed a gun at them. They stepped back, shouted commands and called for back-up.
The officers heard a gunshot in the room and then a man, identified as Henderson, rushed from the room and toward the officers. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the shooting, said the officers told BCA agents they believed Henderson was armed and not complying with police commands. They shot him. No weapon was found on Henderson.
"The officers, subsequently, did shoot the person and that person was given medical attention and transferred to Regions Hospital," he said. "That person has died."
The investigation also found that the original gunshots were fired from inside the motel room by 24-year-old Demetrius S. Ballinger.
Assistant Washington County Attorney Fred Fink said Monday that it's "entirely possible" police were not the first to fire on Henderson.
"It is conceivable that he was shot as he exited the room by the person inside," he said.
Police said Ballinger refused to leave the room or to let seven other people exit.
Fink said he was unaware of the status of an autopsy on Henderson's body.
Woodbury Police, the Washington County SWAT team and sheriff's deputies were involved in the standoff.
Police said numerous people were in the room where the shooting occurred; a few were injured and taken to the hospital.
"We know there was a lot of criminal activity that was going on inside that motel room. Serious criminal activity," Vague said. "We know people were assaulted."
The Washington County SWAT team was called to assist and negotiate with Ballinger. After a successful negotiation, Ballinger was arrested shortly before 5 a.m. He was booked into Washington County Jail on suspicion of first-degree criminal sexual conduct, kidnapping and aggravated robbery.
The officers' paid administrative leave is standard practice in a police-involved shooting.
Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said his prosecutors will likely be working over the weekend in concert with investigators on the case. He said possible charges could be filed this week.
"There's so much going on," he said Friday, adding that the episode was rife with "unbelievable drama."
Orput said he will personally review the case of the officers involved in the shooting, but said early indications were that the shooting was justified.
"I'm satisfied that what I've heard sounds like the cops did the right thing," he said. "I'm anxious to review that.
Witnesses staying in neighboring rooms said they saw police escorting a woman and two children out of the room.
"They were screaming and crying," said Todd Graves, who had been staying at the motel for about two weeks.
Farris Nazzal, who said his room was two doors down from where the shooting happened, was told to evacuate immediately.
"It looked like Afghanistan over here, no joke," he said.
Nazzal said he heard five or six shots being fired and saw a black man on the ground being handcuffed by police.
The handcuffed man repeatedly said, "You got me, you got me," Nazzal said.
Although there were a dozen people in the room, Nazzal said it didn't sound like it.
"I guess that guy had a lot of people in there, I didn't hear a peep," he said.
Graves said he had his door open at the same time the incident happened when he saw the parking lot filled with squad cars. Police also blocked off Valley Creek Road and Woodlane Drive, he said.
"All we could hear was 'Get down, get down, get down. Show me your hands,'" he said.
Nazzal was moved to a different room, but Graves said he stayed in his room that faces the west side of the building, the same side as the room where the shooting was.
Police broke windows on the east side of the building to rehearse what they would have to do in case they needed to get in to rescue hostages, Vague said.
Drew Evans, senior special agent with the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, said 12 people, males and females, were in the motel room at the time, and several of them were assaulted.
However, authorities did not confirm if children were involved in the incident.
BCA officials are assisting in the officer-involved shooting investigation as they also try to figure out what type of activity was going on in the room, Evans said.
Police tape surrounded the motel Friday morning while authorities conducted interviews with witnesses and officers. The motel room in question was being processed by the BCA.
It has been two years since Woodbury had an officer involved shooting, where Sgt. Omar Maklad was injured in a standoff that left one man dead.
"Obviously for us, this is a tough day for us," Vague said Friday. "This is a situation we never want to have."
Ballinger's Minnesota criminal history includes several prior convictions, the most recent from Aug. 1 when he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. He was sentenced to spend five days a week at the Ramsey County Correctional Facility until February 2013.
He pleaded guilty in March 2011 to third-degree property damage in a case where a brawling charge was dismissed.
Ballinger has two domestic assault convictions on his record, the most recent from February 2011. He also pleaded guilty to domestic assault in June 2009.
In addition, Ballinger was convicted in June 2009 of domestic abuse by violating a no-contact order.
-- Woodbury Bulletin Editor Mike Longaecker contributed to this report