Our View: Reserve judgment in Red Roof shooting case
While most of us were sound asleep in the early hours of Aug. 31, other people's lives were changing in Woodbury - all for the worse.
Here's what we know, or at least what we can glean from police reports:
Dispatchers receive an open-line call at the Red Roof around 1 a.m. Officers respond. While scoping out a second-story room, a gun is pointed at an officer's head.
The officers - three of them - take positions on the balcony while they call for backup.
A gun goes off. A man runs from the room. Officers open fire on the man.
The man, who was found to be unarmed, later dies of his wounds.
The scene goes into standoff mode. The SWAT team is called in. A police negotiator makes contact with the suspect inside the room.
Around 5 a.m., the man gives up the hostages and surrenders.
It was later learned that during the standoff, the suspect, Demetrius Ballinger, allegedly robbed and raped some of the hostages.
All of this while most of us slept soundly through the night.
When we awoke, we were stunned to learn the grisly news. How could this have happened? What are we to make of this?
Indeed, the public is entitled to answers - especially to questions about how a teenager, Mark Henderson, lost his life during the episode.
We would urge the public to be patient, however. It is tempting to make judgments as we read reports and hear others' accounts of events surrounding that tumultuous night.
Frankly, it is hard not to when we hear a report that an unarmed man was shot dead by police.
But as we mull that over, remember that these officers did not arrive at the Red Roof that night eager to kill a man. They were placed in a dangerous situation. We know that much. They were pinned down, exposed, on an enclosed balcony when the suspect's gun went off.
What happened after is where the blanks must be filled in.
Officer-involved shootings can be career-ending incidents for police, for many reasons. We expect no one has turned over the events from Aug. 31 in their heads more than the three cops involved. And we doubt any one of them savors the memory from that night.
The case was turned over to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension - an agency known for being thorough. As that investigation sorts out the evidence, we expect hard questions to be answered.
We hope the following, at least, are addressed:
- What happened on that balcony that made the officers believe Henderson was a threat to their lives?
- How much time elapsed between the time the shots inside the hotel were fired and when Henderson emerged from the room?
- Did the suspect's shots make contact with Henderson?
- Were the officers able to see Henderson's hands? What effect did the nighttime setting have in the officers' visual interpretation of what was happening?
- What role did the enclosed balcony setting have in the officers' decision to shoot?
- What kind of training had the officers received in deadly force scenarios?
Until we begin to see answers, judgment is misplaced. For now, we know only a disturbing reminder as we lay down to rest: Lives were changed in Woodbury for the worse.