Grand jury: Tolkinen’s death justified use of police deadly force

Shots took down heavily armed, drunken man with mental health issues

A Ramsey County grand jury has found that two St. Paul police officers will face no charges after shooting a man to death during a tense standoff at his rental house on the 400 block of White Bear Avenue last March.

“The Grand Jury determined that probable cause did not exist to charge either Saint Paul police officer with a crime,” a statement from the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office reads. 

Justin Todd Tolkinen, 28, was found at the address after a neighbor called reporting a man was seen wearing a bulletproof vest and holding a rifle.

Police arrived at the scene and spotted Tolkinen in the alley. SWAT team negotiators were then called in as nearby neighbors were evacuated from their homes, and a portion of White Bear Avenue was shut down.

The SWAT team arrived at the house at the corner of White Bear and Wilson avenues, and Tolkinen, who’d gone back inside, came out. Shots were exchanged, and Tolkinen was fatally wounded.

The Ramsey County grand jury that reviewed the police officers’ use of force consisted of 23 randomly selected Ramsey County residents. The panel meets on an as-needed basis when cases arise. 

To return an indictment, at least 12 members must agree. As per Minnesota law, proceedings of a grand jury are secret, and therefore not available to the public.

However, a redacted version of the events was released by the county attorney’s office to convey the grand jury’s considerations to the public. The information below comes from the county attorney’s office.

Mental health history, drinking

Tolkinen had had previous run-ins with law enforcement between 2003 and 2015, according to a memo on the Grand Jury decision. He exhibited mental health problems in many of these run-ins.

At the time he was shot, he’d been renting out the small rambler where the shootout occurred.

According to testimony from his girlfriend at the time of his death, she and Tolkinen had been drinking for well over 12 hours before the incident took place. They drank the night before his death and into the morning.

Around noon the next day, the woman went to a nearby liquor store and bought a large bottle of Jagermeister, which they drank at his house. 

A little later, she left again to retrieve some food at the nearby Subway restaurant. She was gone an estimated 10 minutes. 

Bulletproof vest, assault rifle waving

While she was gone, neighbors observed Tolkinen on the back deck of his house wearing a bulletproof vest. Shortly after, they saw him and the woman kissing. When he went inside, she left the house, walking fast as if escaping.

The neighbors then observed Tolkinen again emerge from the house, this time brandishing an assault rifle, making combat moves and screaming about the government. The neighbors then called police.

When police squads arrived, they found Tolkinen wearing a bulletproof vest over a bare chest, standing just inside his house, with the loaded assault rifle visible in the doorway. Police also observed him wearing a handgun. Tolkinen’s rottweiler was running around in the yard, until police were able to catch it.

Police, including a crisis negotiator, asked him to step away from his weapon. He didn’t respond to the requests, and continued to yell about NATO and the government. He indicated to police that he knew they were there, and that he would be killed.

Beanbag rounds

After negotiations didn’t work, police began shooting beanbag rounds at Tolkinen, while other officers advanced toward him, hoping to take him into custody.

The rounds didn’t work, as Tolkinen responded by grabbing his assault rifle and aiming at officers.

At this point, St. Paul Police Officer Mark Farrington took aim at Tolkinen and shot him. 

Tolkinen backed up from the kitchen into the living room, still holding his rifle. Farrington continued to fire, and another officer approached from another angle, and shot, eventually killing Tolkinen.

Tolkinen never fired at officers.

Four officers on the scene were placed on a three-day paid administrative leave, per police policy. The officers involved were Mark Farrington, Brian Hall, Patrick Murphy and Jermaine Davis.

Only Hall and Farrington’s actions were reviewed by the county grand jury.

Farrington has been involved in four recent incidents where he shot at a suspect. In three of the incidents, the suspects were allegedly driving a vehicle at police. In October of 2012, Farrington was involved in an incident where 41-year-old Victor Gaddy was shot and killed after he allegedly tried to ram cop cars to evade arrest on the East Side.

Home arsenal

After the Tolkinen shooting, officers entered the home where they found a smorgasbord of firearms. Out in the open were two loaded handguns, ammunition, a gas mask, dozens of empty beer cans, cartons of cigarettes and ashtrays overflowing with cigarettes, and a large knife as well as various gun and military paraphernalia. 

In a safe, there were three semiautomatic handguns, three assault rifle, two shotguns, $500 cash and ammunition. 

In an interview with Tolkinen’s father, who lives in Texas, he told police that his son had been on medication for mental health issues, but had stopped taking the medication because he could not afford it.

Contact Patrick Larkin at 651-748-7816 or at Follow him on Twitter at @PatrickLarkinMn.

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