Settlement hearing scheduled in lawsuit for Roseville police killing


John Birkeland

An Aug. 6 settlement conference order is the first filing of the year related to a wrongful death lawsuit against the City of Roseville and three of its police officers.

Dean Birkeland, brother of 52-year-old John Birkeland, who was shot to death by police in 2016 in his Roseville apartment, filed the lawsuit in April 2017 in U.S. District Court seeking some $2 million in damages alleging Fourth Amendment and civil rights violations.

The latest filing in the case scheduled a settlement hearing for Wednesday, Nov. 28, at the federal courthouse in Duluth.

The suit named Roseville officers Kyle Eckert and John Jorgensen as defendants, along with Sgt. Joseph Adams and the city.

Adams was the officers’ commanding officer the night Birkeland was killed.

In July 2016, a Ramsey County grand jury returned a “no bill” decision regarding the shooting, “determin[ing] that the use of deadly force by Roseville Police Officers Kyle Eckert and John Jorgensen was legally justified under Minnesota Statute,” as announced by a Ramsey County Attorney’s Office press release.

As stated in the release, “In order to bring criminal charges against a police officer for using deadly force in the line of duty, Minnesota law requires that the State be able to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force was not justified.”

The defense’s May 2016 answer to the lawsuit argued the officers’ actions were within the law.

“Defendant Officers Jorgensen, Eckert and Adams were at all times performing a discretionary function while acting with the good faith and reasonable belief that their actions were lawful, constitutional and proper,” the answer said. 

It also asserted Roseville was entitled to immunity.

At the time the suit was filed, Roseville City Manager Pat Trudgeon said “the situation is a difficult matter for everybody involved, including the Birkeland family and the three officers.”

 

Birkeland’s death

According to Roseville police and the lawsuit, John Birkeland was killed after neighbors called police about yelling and other noises coming from his apartment in the 1600 block of County Road B on Feb. 10, 2016.

Birkeland, who had a history of mental illness, would not open his door to police, who learned at the scene he had a misdemeanor warrant out for his arrest for giving a false name to officers a few months prior.

Officers broke down his door after waiting at it for more than 20 minutes. Birkeland, alone in his apartment, was hiding in a bedroom closet and had a kitchen knife. 

Officers sicked a police dog on Birkeland. He stabbed the dog in the face as it bit his leg and Eckert and Jorgensen fired four shots at him.

Birkeland was hit twice in the chest and once in the neck, with the fourth bullet hitting the back wall of the closet. The officers said they feared for their lives and the life of the police dog, whose handler was Jorgensen. The dog, Otis, survived being stabbed.

 

Previous deadly
force, settlement

Both Jorgensen and Eckert, along with a third Roseville officer, were named as officers who fired their guns during the October 2014 police shooting of a man at the former Lowry Grove mobile home park in St. Anthony Village. 

The man was killed after he burst out of a trailer home holding a rifle, following an hours-long standoff during which St. Anthony police called for help from neighboring police departments.

Eckert also was among four officers named in a $500,000 police brutality lawsuit filed against Roseville that was settled for $60,000 in 2015. The suit stemmed from a traffic stop for speeding, when a passenger, who spoke limited English, was allegedly dragged out of the vehicle by police and punched and kicked.

Roseville officer Justin Gunderson quit the force Jan. 19, 2016, following a 15-day unpaid suspension, a disciplinary action taken by the city for his role in the May 2013 traffic stop that sparked the police brutality lawsuit.

Another of Jorgensen’s K9 partners, a dog named Major, was stabbed multiple times and paralyzed by a burglary suspect while responding to a burglary call at a business in Maplewood in November 2010. As a direct result of those injuries, Major was euthanized in April 2013.

Roseville and the officers’ legal costs stemming from the wrongful death suit are being paid for by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust. The city has a $100,000 occurrence deductible for which it is responsible. The city pays that deductible using its risk management fund.

 

– Mike Munzenrider can be reached at mmunzenrider@lillienews.com or 651-748-7813

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