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Grand Forks officers justified in shooting man with gun, state's attorney says

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Jordan Drees and Michael Ruit2 / 2

GRAND FORKS -- Two Grand Forks police officers tried to convince a man to put his gun down in early July but fatally shot him when they thought he would kill a woman, according to video and documents saying the shooting was justified.

The Grand Forks County State’s Attorney’s Office announced Thursday, Aug. 2, it will not bring criminal charges against Cpl. Jordan Drees and Officer Michael Ruit, who killed 41-year-old John Francis Murphy III during an early July shooting in Grand Forks.

“After careful consideration, the State’s Attorney's Office has determined that the involved officers with the Grand Forks Police Department used reasonable force in this particular instance under North Dakota law,” a news release from the office stated.

The ruling closes the investigation into a response to a suicidal man with a handgun that began at 3:17 a.m. July 8. Drees, Ruit and a third Grand Forks police officer, Cpl. Dana Plorin were the first at the scene, where they encountered Murphy and a female relative near a pump house in Bringewatt Park, according to an overview of the incident.

Two sets of body camera footage don’t appear to show Murphy and the woman, but the woman’s pleas for Murphy to put the gun down can be heard in the videos. Officers announced they were from the police department and issued multiple commands to the two people, including ordering them to show their hands, put their weapons down and walk toward the officers.

“He does have a handgun in his right hand,” Drees says in the video.

The woman also had a weapon but obeyed commands to put her weapon down, according to police. She sounded distraught and frightened, telling Murphy, “Please, you don’t have to do this. Put it down,” according to incident documents.

Murphy ignored officers’ commands and “did not acknowledge the officers in any way,” the state’s attorney’s office said.

Officers continued to make commands for Murphy to put his weapon down as the woman pleaded with him. The encounter went on for about eight minutes before the woman started to slowly back away from Murphy. Drees and Ruit told investigators from the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation they saw Murphy step toward the woman. Drees was afraid Murphy would use his gun on the woman.

“Murphy then advanced directly toward her, and Officer Ruit thought Murphy was going to kill her,” the BCI reported, adding police were making arrangements to use a less-lethal response. “Officer Ruit’s concern was how he could keep the female safe.”

An officer yelled at Murphy to stop, and Drees fired his weapon “four to six times,” documents stated. Drees told the BCI he was afraid he would have lost sight of Murphy if the officer hadn’t fired his weapon. The woman was “out of the line of fire,” according to documents.

Ruit did not fire his rifle until he heard gunshots, the BCI said. It appears he only fired one shot, according to the documents.

The woman and officers were not injured, and officers attempted to save Murphy using CPR after he was hit with multiple gunshots, according to documents. He died shortly after being shot.

The BCI has not received final autopsy report, Grand Forks Police Lt. Bill Macki, so the agency has not determined whether Murphy had alcohol or drugs in his system.

Murphy did not fire his weapon, according to the BCI, which determined he was in possession of a Smith and Wesson .45 caliber handgun. The officers fired .223 caliber Remington rifles.

Carmell Mattison, a Grand Forks County assistant state’s attorney who wrote the summary of the incident, called the shooting “a tragic case, requiring law enforcement to make split-second decisions.” The state’s attorney office said it was important the independent review of the case was “thorough and comprehensive.”

The officers involved were justified under the self-defense and defense of others provision of North Dakota laws, she said.

Drees and Ruit were put on paid administrative leave during the BCI’s investigation into the shooting but are expected to return to the force Friday, Macki said.

“We don’t want to minimize the fact that a life was lost that day, but our officers responded in a professional manner and protected the community,” Macki said.

April Baumgarten

April Baumgarten joined the Grand Forks Herald May 19, 2015, and covers crime and education. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, where her family raises registered Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at Jamestown (N.D.) College, now known as University of Jamestown. During her time at the college, she worked as a reporter and editor-in-chief for the university's newspaper, The Collegian. Baumgarten previously worked for The Dickinson Press as a city government and energy reporter in 2011 before becoming the editor of the Hazen Star and Center Republican. She then returned to The Press as a news editor, where she helped lead an award-winning newsroom in recording the historical oil boom.

Have a story idea? Contact Baumgarten at 701-780-1248.

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