The night before Phumee Lee was fatally shot by St. Paul police officers, he was drinking, snorting cocaine and threatening his long-time girlfriend, according to an investigation made public Thursday.
The threats continued into the next day. On Oct. 5 — Lee pointed the gun at his girlfriend’s head as she held their 9-month-old son and while their 2- and 3-year-old daughters were present.
Lee held his girlfriend and their five children hostage and threatened to kill them, according to the Ramsey County attorney’s office. He fired the gun at his girlfriend twice and she ducked to avoid being struck.
After she fled from her Dayton’s Bluff home and called 911, police found Lee outside. He pointed a gun at officers and fired, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation.
Two officers shot Lee, who died at the scene. On Thursday, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi announced the shooting was justified under the law and the officers will not be charged.
“This tragic incident shows just how dangerous being a police officer can be,” Police Chief Todd Axtell said in a Thursday statement. “Incidents can turn on a dime, forcing officers to make split-second decisions to protect themselves and others.
“While no one is celebrating today, and my heart goes out to Mr. Lee’s family, I am deeply grateful that the officers involved can take another step toward healing from being forced to confront life-threatening danger,” Axtell continued. “I’m also grateful that our community now knows the truth: Mr. Lee’s actions forced officers to protect themselves and others. Too often, in tragic situations like this, some people rush to judgement, come to conclusions not based on facts, and succumb to their emotions, which can sometimes interfere with reality.”
In December, Lee’s mother cried as she, other relatives and community members gathered for a candlelight vigil before Lee’s funeral. Lee’s sister said Thursday that the family had no comment.
LEE’S GIRLFRIEND FLED FROM HOME TO GET HELP
Lee’s girlfriend told BCA officials that Lee had been acting paranoid and she begged him not kill her.
She reported she didn’t want to run out of the house because she feared for their children’s safety. But after he shot at her a second time, she “believed he ‘wanted her dead for real’ and knew she needed to escape,” according to a summary from the Ramsey County attorney’s office.
Shortly before 6 p.m. she flagged down a passing car to call 911. She reported Lee’s threats to kill their children and her, that he had “not slept … since yesterday” and he had “been doing cocaine and drinking … ever since yesterday,” the summary said.
Police surrounded the house on Earl Street, between Euclid and Conway streets. The five children made their way outside about 6:05 p.m., and a SWAT team went in.
At 6:18 p.m., officers spotted Lee walking toward Euclid Street.
OFFICERS HAD JUST BEGUN WEARING BODY CAMERAS
The St. Paul police department began rolling out body-worn cameras to officers in September and the encounter was captured on officers’ body cameras and a resident’s security camera.
The neighbor’s video footage showed a group of officers, including Officers Daniel Gleason and Jordan Wild, pursuing Lee and repeatedly ordering him to stop, Choi wrote to prosecutors on Wednesday, saying he agreed with their recommendation that the officers not be charged.
“The video shows Mr. Lee finally stop, turn, walk towards and face the officers, slightly raising his arms and then begin to walk towards them,” Choi wrote. “He then is seen quickly reaching into his right front pants pocket and removing an object with his right hand. Some of the officers can be seen attempting to seek cover behind a tree while other officers remain unprotected on the sidewalk.”
Lee pointed the object at the officers, who can be heard yelling at Lee to “drop it” and “show us your hands,” Choi wrote.
“The video clearly shows a flash emanate from the object in Mr. Lee’s right hand immediately before he falls onto the street,” Choi continued. “Simultaneously, or a split second before or after, Officer Wild fired six rounds at Mr. Lee from his weapon and Officer Gleason fired ten rounds from his.”
GUN WAS FOUND NEXT TO LEE
Police found a .38‐caliber revolver on the ground, 18 inches from Lee’s right hand, according to Choi.
The firearm contained three spent shell casings, which is consistent with the evidence that Lee fired two shots in the home before police were called and one at police, according to an Aug. 2 memo from prosecutors who reviewed the BCA investigation.
Because Lee was convicted of felony domestic assault in 2013, he was barred from possessing firearms for life, prosecutors wrote in the memo. He was charged in July 2017 with possession of a firearm by an ineligible person and the case was pending.
A police officer released her K-9 during the confrontation and the dog placed “a bite hold” on Lee’s leg when he was on the ground, according to the county attorney’s memo.
After an officer removed the K-9, the dog was treated for an injury to his paw. Veterinarians could not determine whether the K-9’s “paw had been somehow torn or shot,” the memo continued.
BODY CAMERA FOOTAGE IN HUGHES CASE EXPECTED TO BE RELEASED SOON
The issue of police body camera footage of officer-involved shootings has returned to the forefront.
On Sunday, St. Paul police officers fatally shot William James Hughes, 43, in his Summit-University residence.
Police were responding to a 911 call about shots fired in the rental property at 905 St. Anthony Ave. and said they encountered Hughes, who had a handgun. The BCA said its investigators recovered a gun at the scene.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said Sunday that he was seeking “the release of the body cam footage as soon as possible.” On Tuesday, Police Chief Todd Axtell said he expects to release the footage within 10 days.
Carter noted on Tuesday that a law enforcement agency can make information public before an investigation is finished for several reasons, including to “dispel widespread rumor or unrest.”