No charges against officer who shot man after chase

GRAND FORKS - Prosecutors decided against pressing charges against a University of North Dakota police officer who shot a suspect outside Altru Hospital last month, according to Grand Forks County State's Attorney David Jones.


GRAND FORKS - Prosecutors decided against pressing charges against a University of North Dakota police officer who shot a suspect outside Altru Hospital last month, according to Grand Forks County State's Attorney David Jones.

Jones found that officer Jerad Braaten was justified in firing his .40 caliber Glock, shooting 41-year-old David James Elliott six times and peppering his pickup with bullet holes, early on Feb. 28 outside the Grand Forks hospital.

"Mr. Elliott's actions were such that multiple individuals, law enforcement and civilian alike, were placed in extreme danger for their life or serious bodily injury," Jones wrote in a three-page opinion addressed to UND Police Department Chief Eric Plummer.

Jones made the decision after reviewing police reports, audio statements, photographs and video evidence taken from city officers' newly rolled-out body-worn cameras and officers' patrol car cameras.

In his opinion, Jones pointed to the two high-speed pursuits Elliott led police on prior to the shooting, saying he made runs at police vehicles twice, ultimately striking a sheriff's deputy's vehicle as the deputy tried to move out of the way.


Though Braaten had not joined the pursuits until relatively late, Jones noted "officer Braaten had been monitoring radio traffic concerning this matter and was aware of the circumstances presented and the public safety issues raised."

A warrant was issued for Elliott's arrest Wednesday. He is charged with two counts of reckless endangerment, both class C felonies, and one count of fleeing from police, a class A misdemeanor, in state district court in Grand Forks.

Elliott is awaiting extradition from Hennepin County, Minn., a press release from the State's Attorney's Office said. Last week, Elliott was still in a Twin Cities hospital recovering from his gunshot wounds, at least one to the face, with more surgeries ahead for him, his wife, Jennifer Elliott, said last week.

The opinion Jones penned -- as well as court records filed in Elliott's criminal case -- reveals more about what occurred leading up to the moment Elliott was shot.

It all started when a 911 caller reported Elliott's black Chevrolet Silverado, which was at the Wells Fargo Bank on South Columbia Road, as suspicious around 10:40 p.m. Feb. 27, according to police dispatch logs.

It is unclear why the vehicle would have aroused suspicion.

Grand Forks Police Officer Daniel Harvala followed Elliott for several blocks and then tried to pull him over after Elliott "did not come to a full and complete stop at the stop sign" at 20th Avenue South and South 20th Street, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in Elliott's case.

Elliott did not stop for the officer and instead fled, leading the officer on a chase with speeds ranging from 80 to 100 mph, the affidavit says.


At one point during the chase, Elliott allegedly ran a red light and nearly struck a white van at the intersection of South Columbia Road and 13th Avenue South, the affidavit says.

The affidavit alleges Elliott was driving erratically, weaving in and out of traffic and at one point, driving over a concrete island and around cars stopped at an intersection.

The chase went as far south as Thompson, N.D., about 15 miles away on Interstate 29, and topped speeds of 100 mph before a police supervisor called it off.

Elliott himself then called 911. Elliott said something to a police officer over the phone which raised "concerns" he wanted to harm himself, according to Jones' opinion.

When a state Highway Patrol trooper spotted Elliott's pickup shortly thereafter north of Grand Forks, near the Oslo, Minn., interchange with Interstate 29, the trooper followed him south on I-29.

Officers tried to have Elliott pull over to talk with Altru ambulance workers back in Grand Forks, but Elliott would not stop, Jones' opinion says.

Officers again tried to stop him at the Gateway Drive exit by "boxing him in," according to court papers. It was at that I-29 exit that officers first drew their weapons -- but did not fire them -- according to Jones' opinion.

Instead of stopping, Elliott allegedly accelerated toward law enforcement patrol cars, nearly hitting two of them, and fled the scene at high speeds, Jones' opinion says.


Braaten joined the pursuit. Three officers, including Braaten, again drew their weapons when Elliott stopped his pickup at the top of the Columbia Road overpass.

"Mr. Elliott again made references to harming himself. He became agitated and proceeded southbound on North Columbia Road at a high rate of speed, again risking harm to any individuals at or near the roadway," Jones' opinion says.

Elliott's pickup hit the spike strips city officers had laid, flattening his tires, but Elliott kept driving until he turned into the Altru parking lot.

There, officers again tried to box Elliott in, while Grand Forks Police Sgt. Mark Ellingson reached into Elliott's vehicle and tried to either turn off the vehicle or shift it into park, records say.

It was then that Elliott allegedly stepped on the gas, hitting Grand Forks Sheriff's Sgt. Andy Schneider's Ford Expedition.

Braaten fired his weapon, shooting Elliott six times.

"Officer Jerad Braaten has indicated that he was concerned for the immediate safety of Sgt. Ellingson as well as the safety of others at or near the scene of the Altru parking lot," Jones wrote.

The opinion says a Grand Forks officer also used a Taser on Elliott after he was shot because he still "resisted being taken into custody."


Under state and federal law, an officer generally is justified in using deadly force to prevent what the officer reasonably believes to be a threat of serious physical injury or death to the officer or to others.

In his opinion, Jones cited the 1989 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Graham v. Connor.

That decision says the law evaluates situations in which an officer uses force "from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight."

UND Police Department still is reviewing whether Braaten's use of deadly force was in line with department policy.

Sgt. Danny Weigel, of UND Police, said the department likely will wrap up its own internal investigation of the incident before the week is over.

Meanwhile, Braaten, who has been on administrative leave since the shooting, will return to his regular patrol Monday, said Peter Welte, the Vogel attorney representing Braaten.

"He is relieved and pleased that the proper decision was arrived at," Welte said of Braaten's reaction to the decision. "He's glad his fellow officers are OK, and he's also glad Mr. Elliott is recovering."


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