ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A man carrying a raised knife charged at a St. Paul police officer after rear-ending his squad car and refused repeated commands to drop the weapon before the officer fatally shot him, according to body-camera footage released Tuesday.
Officer Steve Mattson shot 31-year-old Ronald Davis on Sept. 15 in the city’s Midway neighborhood, in a confrontation that unfolded in less than a minute after Mattson’s marked squad SUV was hit from behind.
The death of Davis, who was black, led to a demonstration a week later by several dozen protesters who called for an end to police shootings.
“When we make mistakes, the St. Paul Police Department has a proven record of taking responsibility,” Chief Todd Axtell said at a news conference. “However, this is not one of those times.”
The officer’s body-camera video corroborated the initial police account, that Davis attacked the officer after Davis rear-ended Mattson’s police SUV. The officer’s chest-mounted camera showed his vehicle lurch after impact.
As Mattson got out, the footage showed Davis running into view. Mattson can be heard shouting, “Whoa! Whoa!” and “Get away from me! Drop the knife!” The officer appears to fall to the ground before quickly getting up again. It appears at least two shots can be heard during the encounter, which lasted less than 30 seconds. The full clip was a minute long.
Freeze-frames show Davis holding a flashlight in his left hand and the knife in his right. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension earlier said that Davis was holding a knife when he was shot, and a knife was recovered near his body.
Axtell said Mattson “had no choice but to defend himself against an immediate and violent attack.”
Mattson, who is white, joined the department as a trainee in August 2018 and was promoted to officer last December. Personnel documents released Tuesday show that he has faced no disciplinary actions.
The chief also acknowledged the raw feelings among many in the community over police shootings of black men in recent years, including several in the area.
“While I recognize the trauma that has been caused by a history of policing practices throughout our country that has disproportionately affected communities of color, I also cannot stand by — I simply can’t sleep at night — knowing that a good officer, and all our officers, are being assailed by people who don’t have all the facts,” he said.
The BCA is still investigating the shooting, so Axtell would not comment beyond his prepared statement. The agency hasn’t released the autopsy results or said whether Davis was drunk or high when he attacked Mattson. Investigators also haven’t said whether Davis had a history of mental illness.
BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveria didn’t address the question in a statement Tuesday, saying only that the BCA would send its findings to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office when complete and that all public information would be available when the case is closed.
The Anti-Police Brutality Coalition said in a statement that the release of partial video was insufficient, and it wasn’t clear whether Mattson could have used de-escalation tactics or nonlethal force. The group demanded the release of all the video, as well as any surveillance video, and all investigative documents.
Mayor Melvin Carter, who is black, told reporters that Mattson faced an “incredibly dangerous and scary event that no person and certainly no officer would ever hope to encounter. I see Officer Mattson defending himself while retreating, and as a son of a (retired) police officer, I can’t say that I can see anything beyond that, that we could have expected him to do.”