St. Paul police officers' decision to shoot Cordale Handy was justified, attorney's office says

The 29-year-old pointed an unloaded gun at the officers twice, the investigation found.
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The St. Paul street where Cordale Handy was shot.

The St. Paul street where Cordale Handy was shot.

The basics

– Two St. Paul police officers' actions were justified when they shot and killed Cordale Quinn Handy on March 15, 2017, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office announced Friday.

– Police had been called to an apartment building in St. Paul around 2:20 a.m. that night because of a domestic disturbance, but encountered Handy in the street. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which handled the investigation, said the 29-year-old had a gun, and pointed it at the officers twice despite being told to drop it. 

The county attorney's file detailing the case says Handy yelled and fired shots in the apartment before leaving. Cellphone video shows some of this behavior. His girlfriend, who called 911, said he'd taken drugs and had a gun, though told dispatch it was not loaded.

Officers couldn't trust the gun wasn't loaded

The state of the gun Handy had in his possession is a frequent focus of the document. Handy's girlfriend, when she called 911, said he had taken drugs and was holding a gun, but repeatedly stressed it was not loaded. 

"And when the police arrive the gun is unloaded. Please do not shoot him," she said, according to the file. "He has taken drugs. He is a little out of his mind right now. He has a weapon but f-----g it is not loaded. For sure. Could you please let them know?"

Fired bullets and shell casings were found in the apartment. Investigators found there had been damage to the magazine at some point, and any live rounds that had been in the pistol fell out – meaning the gun was inoperable by the time Handy went outside, the investigation found, the file says.

On the scene, a witness told one of the officers Handy's girlfriend said the gun was unloaded. 

But considering the situation – residents heard screaming and shooting, Handy was behaving erratically, and there was no way to know if he reloaded – trusting that information wasn't a given.

"While it is true that information was presented to the officers that Mr. Handy’s gun may have been unloaded, it would be unreasonable for anyone to expect and incredibly dangerous for the officers to presume that was true under these facts and circumstances," Ramsey County Attorney John Choi wrote in an email released Friday. 

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a statement the investigation showed the "violence, terror and danger" that residents experienced that night.

"My heart goes out to the Handy family, who has lost a loved one," he said. "While the investigation clearly shows that our officers did everything they could to pursue a different outcome, I take no solace in the fact that our officers were put in such a dangerous position and a man lost his life."

Handy's mother had filed a federal lawsuit against the police department, arguing the officers shot without provocation.

How the shooting unfolded

After arriving on the scene, the two officers – Mikko Norman and Nathaniel Younce – pursued Handy down the street. They saw a gun and told Handy to drop it, at which point Handy flopped down and leaned against the curb. The officers moved a little closer and told him again to drop the firearm, at which point Handy lifted the gun and briefly pointed it at Officer Norman. 

He then raised the gun again at Norman, and the officers fired.

Handy was shot seven times. Toxicology tests tested positive for THC and a psycho-stimulant, such as molly.

Witnesses told investigators they heard yelling and shooting from inside the apartment before police arrived, and confirmed that the officers repeatedly told Handy to drop the gun. 

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has made videos, photos and other investigative documents available online for the public.

Norman and Younce are still full-time patrol officers with SPPD, a police spokesperson said. 

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