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When a suspect shot rifle rounds at a Minn. deputy, he ducked, swerved and survived

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said if the bullet hit six inches higher, it would have struck Deputy Joe Kill directly

By Mara H. Gottfried
Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Something wasn’t right as Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputy Joe Kill pursued a vehicle that wouldn’t pull over. He could feel it.

The driver darkened the vehicle’s headlights and kept turning left onto St. Paul’s streets, in a square pattern. Kill felt they were trying to bait him to get close to the vehicle, so he started backing off.

When he followed them onto the next street, about 30 feet behind, Kill saw the front-seat passenger was part way out the window and sitting on its ledge. He was aiming a tan rifle in the deputy’s direction. Then, he started shooting.

The deputy ducked, swerved the squad to get out of the line of fire, and felt pain just below his shoulder. He knew he’d been hit but wasn’t immediately sure if it was by a rifle round, shrapnel or what it was.

“Six inches higher and the bullet would have come through the windshield and struck him directly,” Sheriff Bob Fletcher told the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners recently.

It was shrapnel that struck Kill and it caused deep-tissue bruising. Kill has returned to work, though he’s still seeing a physical therapist nearly three months after his injuries.

Kill faced the near-death experience less than two weeks after a man with a rifle fired more than 100 rounds at public safety officers, mortally wounding Burnsville officers Matthew Ruge and Paul Elmstrand, along with Burnsville firefighter/paramedic Adam Finseth.

Assaults on law enforcement in Minnesota have been increasing since 2020, statewide data show.

On average, 388 officers were assaulted each year in the decade up to 2019. There were an average of 1,065 officers assaulted annually between 2020 and last year, according to statistics maintained by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Most of the assaults resulted in minor or no injuries.

When the Ramsey County Board recognized the sheriff’s office earlier this month during National Police Week, a time for memorializing fallen officers, Fletcher told them he’s seen the work become more perilous in his nearly 47 years in law enforcement.

“The weaponry, the assault rifles, the type of guns that are out there make this job far more dangerous and I will say the attitude toward police, of course has in some cases deteriorated over the years,” Fletcher said. “I think we’re making progress. I think we’ve re-established some relationships and I see signs of improvement there.”

Veteran and hometown officer becomes deputy Joe Kill, 40, has public service in his blood. His grandfather, John Kill, served in the U.S. Navy during World War II.

When John Kill returned to St. Paul, he became a firefighter. He was a captain in 1972 when he collapsed and died while fighting a fire at Carroll Avenue and Mackubin Street.

Joe Kill joined the Minnesota National Guard and served as a military police officer from 2011 to 2018. He deployed to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he worked in the detention camp.

In Minnesota, he worked as a federal security officer before becoming a community service officer and then a police officer in White Bear Lake, where he grew up.

He became a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy about three years ago, as the sheriff’s office started its Carjacking and Auto Theft (CAT) team. Kill was a lead investigator on the team, which is tasked with finding suspects, and looking for stolen and carjacked vehicles. Kill was on patrol in that role on March 1 when a St. Paul officer tried to pull over a vehicle, but the driver continued on.

“Immediately it came by me and then I attempted to stop it,” Kill said. He was near the St. Paul Police Department’s Eastern District station when the vehicle drove away from him, heading into the Dayton’s Bluff area.

The Honda went through a red light. Kill, driving an unmarked squad, activated its emergency lights and sirens. The driver kept going, but didn’t travel over 30 mph and turned off the Honda’s headlights.

Beyond the driver continuing to take left turns, it wasn’t a normal pursuit because young people who flee from the CAT team typically drive excessively fast, Kill said.

When the rifle fire started on Euclid and Forest streets, Kill said the rounds sounded like a ball-peen hammer hitting his squad. The Honda left the area.

There were bullet fragments at Kill’s feet — what remained from the rounds going through the squad’s hood, the motor and the panel between the engine and passenger compartments.

“The term ‘shrapnel’ really gets contorted,” Fletcher said. “What struck him was a tumbling bullet.”

‘Absolutely helpless’

It was a Friday night and Fletcher was livestreaming his “Live on Patrol,” a broadcast of his patrols that draws large numbers of viewers on Facebook and YouTube, when Kill radioed that shots were fired and he’d been struck by something. The sheriff and other law enforcement, already on the way to the area to provide backup to Kill, hurried to him.

Paramedics checked on Kill at the scene and then Kill’s boss drove him to Regions Hospital, where he had X-rays and was released.

Kill had been struck at the top of his bullet-resistant vest and “the impact shook through the side of my body,” Kill said. A specialist determined his ribs had been displaced. He has numbness through his right arm and couldn’t turn his neck to the right side for awhile.

He’s been going to physical therapy three times a week for his shoulder injury.

Kill’s significant other, Molly Grandner, was out of state and Kill was supposed to join them the next day for a vacation with their 1-year-old daughter, and their children from previous relationships.

Grandner’s mother, who was with her, woke up to a phone call saying Kill had been injured, but was OK and was at Regions Hospital . She broke the news to Grandner, who is also a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy and who investigates violent crime.

Grandner felt “absolutely helpless” since she was far away: “No plane could have got me there fast enough. There was nothing I could do. I had to rely on our team of law enforcement and trust that he was going to be in good hands.”

Attempted-murder charges

Less than two weeks later, the Ramsey County attorney’s office charged Trevion Figgs, 20, with attempted murder. He told investigators he hadn’t tried to kill anyone.

“Figgs asked investigators what they wanted, and they told him they wanted to know why it happened — why it was worth it to fire an assault rifle at the deputy over a traffic stop,” according to the criminal complaint. “Figgs said, ‘Why? If you’re going to put me in jail for the rest of my life anyway …’ Figgs then said he wasn’t going to admit to something he didn’t do.”

After the shots-fired incident, the Ramsey County attorney’s office also charged Figgs with attempted murder in a June 26 shooting in St. Paul’s Payne-Phalen area. A man, then 19, was shot in the back while walking. Police collected 27 shell casings in the area.

A friend of the victim had reportedly posted “negative social media comments” about Marleisha Davenport , a 15-year-old from South St. Paul who was fatally shot in Minneapolis on May 18, 2023 . The 19-year-old was shot by someone who drove by in a vehicle, from which there were shouts of, “Long live Marleisha,” the complaint said.

Figgs declined an interview request from the Pioneer Press , and his attorney said he didn’t have a comment at this time.

Prosecutors also charged a 16-year-old girl and a 17-year-old boy, the alleged driver, with attempted murder in the case involving the deputy. The county attorney’s office is seeking to have their cases moved from juvenile to adult court.

Recovering physically and mentally

Kill was on leave from work for about a month to recover physically and to also start processing what happened.

Fletcher assigned him to a unit the sheriff’s office recently started — he’s now an acting sergeant of a team investigating non-fatal shootings. The sheriff said he didn’t want to put Kill back in the CAT unit right away, so he wouldn’t be pursuing vehicles at nighttime and continually reliving memories of what happened, though Kill may choose to return at some point.

He’s good at the work, Fletcher said. Kill recently testified in federal court in an Arden Hills carjacking case he investigated — a 61-year-old was robbed of her vehicle at gunpoint and a then-56-year-old man was charged. A jury found the man guilty on Thursday.

Both Kill and Grandner said their parents worry about them and Kill’s oldest child, an 18-year-old, is acutely aware of his work.

Kill believes assaults on law enforcement officers have increased because “people think they don’t have to listen to us or they think there’s no rules, and the consequences are low.”

Before Kill was hurt, Grandner had thought about the dangers of Kill’s job on the CAT team.

“They are chasing these kids that have no regard for the public,” she said. “All the kids have guns either on them or in the car. It was honestly a matter of time and I was praying that when that day came, Joe was prepared. And thank God he was.”

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