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Man's fatal shooting by police in Mountain Iron justified, county attorney rules

19-year-old Estavon Elioff died in the Dec. 5 incident.
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A county attorney has ruled that the force used by police in Mountain Iron that left a 19-year-old man dead was justified.

The St. Louis County Attorney's Office, when deciding whether any charges would be brought in the Dec. 5 death of Estavon Elioff, ruled that the officers who fatally shot the teen did so in self-defense.

In a report presented to the county attorney, the deputies who opened fire said they had felt in imminent danger of their lives, saying they saw Elioff turn towards them with what they believed to be a gun in his hand.

After Elioff was shot dead, it was discovered that what he had actually been holding was a folding knife.

In his statement, county attorney Mark Rubin said: "We must examine the 'totality of the circumstances' facing the officer. We cannot rely on information learned after the event.

"When confronted with the inherent threat of great bodily harm or death to themselves or others, an officer has the right and the duty to use the amount of force reasonably necessary to meet that threat.

"This was a death following the pursuit, confrontation and attempt to take into custody a young man suspected of firing multiple shots into a home in Virginia, with a 9mm weapon, a little more than 24 hours earlier.

"A tragedy? Yes. Especially because indications point to young Elioff feeling caught, trapped and hopeless ... and in all likelihood knowing that his gesture towards the deputies would force a professional response and cost him his life."

What happened?

Elioff, of Virginia, Minnesota, came to the attention of the police after a report of shoplifting from the L&M Supply Store in Mountain Iron.

A St. Louis County deputy approached the suspect as he walked away from the store, and when the deputy got out of her squad vehicle, the suspect "placed his right hand in his jacket pocket" before fleeing into a nearby wooded area.

Suspecting Elioff had a firearm, the deputy called for backup and didn't follow him. 

Radio dispatch then developed that stated the man resembled a suspect in a shooting the day before in Virginia, with the suspect "tentatively identified as Estavon Elioff." That shooting saw someone fire at least four rounds from a ghandgun at the occupant of a house.

Dispatch then received a call from Elioff's great-grandmother, confirming that the shoplifter was her great-grandson.

An incident summary compiled for the St. Louis County Attorney states that after a perimeter was set up, police used K-9 officers to track Elioff, and eventually found him standing about six feet off the ground on a partially fallen pine tree.

Two St. Louis County deputies gave Elioff "loud commands" to show his hands and get down on the ground.

Here's what the report says happened next:

"Elioff did not initially respond in any way. His hands were in front of him, and he appeared to be digging into his jacket or jacket pocket. Twice, a taser was deployed to get Elioff’s compliance, but both times the taser had little to no effect.

"After the second taser deployment, Deputy Smith, still in control of his K-9 on a leash, observed Elioff partially turn towards Smith, and extend his hand in Smith’s direction. Deputy Smith observed a black object in Elioff’s hand pointed directly at Smith. Believing this object to be a firearm, Smith hollered to his partner, Tomsich, “GUN, GUN, GUN”.

"Smith had been backing away while shouting this out and tripped and fell. He was able to right himself as Elioff was still pointing the object at Smith. Believing he was about to be fired upon, Smith fired his service pistol in the direction of Elioff. Deputy Tomsich, who was preparing to deploy a 3rd taser strike heard Deputy Smith yell “GUN”. Tomsich then dropped the taser and reached to pull his duty pistol from his holster. As he did so he noticed that Deputy Smith was on the ground, but did not know why or how.

"Deputy Smith then yelled, “Matt, he’s got a gun”, at which point Deputy Tomsich aimed his duty pistol at the back of Estavon Elioff and began firing, although he had not personally observed a gun in Elioff’s hand."

Elioff was struck five times, and by the time EMTs had brought him from the woods, he had died from his injuries.

"Located at the scene of the shooting, right next to where Elioff had fallen from the tree was a folding knife that had been opened to a 90-degree angle," the report says. "The blade of the knife was black."

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