Minn. detective: Drone helped identify shooter's location, captured footage during 2020 standoff
The device captured footage during the standoff when Devin Weiland shot at the drone and at an armored vehicle brought into the area to deploy tear gas
By Sarah Stultz
Albert Lea Tribune
FREEBORN COUNTY, Minn. — A Freeborn County Sheriff's Office detective who operated one of two drones during the standoff at Shady Oaks apartments in November 2020 testified Wednesday in Freeborn County District Court that the technology was used to locate which apartment the shooter was in during the incident.
The drone also captured footage throughout the standoff when Devin Weiland shot at the drone, as well as when he shot at an armored vehicle brought into the area to deploy tear gas toward the end of the standoff.
Ryan Shea, who is the department's drone operator, was one of several law enforcement officers who testified Wednesday during Weiland's trial. Weiland faces three counts of attempted murder and three counts of second-degree assault for allegedly shooting three people during the standoff on Nov. 29, 2020.
Shea said he was called at about 2:30 a.m. that morning by Sheriff Kurt Freitag to assist at the scene.
Witnesses testified earlier this week that a suspect at about 2:17 a.m. called 911 to report fireworks or gunshots near Shady Oaks and that when an officer arrived at the scene, the officer was shot in the chest.
The shooter had also fired other shots, injuring one man who lived in the complex and had come outside to check on his vehicle, and later in the morning injuring a second man who drove by on his way to work.
Shea said after first meeting at Southwest Middle School before the command center was set up at Skyline Plaza, he first deployed the drone between 3:30 and 4 a.m. on the east side of the apartment building. He was set up in front of the former Marketplace Foods entrance, using a remote control for the technology and watching the flight through a seven-inch screen.
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He said the drone is used to give law enforcement eyes on something without putting officers at risk. Because it was still dark out, he used a thermal imager but couldn't find any open windows at the complex.
After a while, he discovered a window had been moved and was able to identify which apartment the shots were coming from — 11 windows to the south from the north and three windows up. He estimated at a little after 6 a.m., he saw Weiland several more times approach the window.
About an hour and a half or two hours, Shea said the drone was shot at, though it did not receive damage. The drone, which has the capability of capturing video while in flight, captured a muzzle flash on the screen.
Shea estimated at about 9 a.m., one of the SWAT teams pulled up to the front of the building in a BearCat armored vehicle and was going to deploy tear gas into the apartment.
He said three or four people unloaded off the back, and he could see the tear gas canisters launch up toward Weiland's apartment. Weiland responded back with four to five rounds from the apartment building out, and fired more rounds shortly after out of the bottom of the same window directed toward the BearCat, Shea said.
The jury watched some of the footage recorded on the drone.
Shea said another agency operated a second drone, but that drone was shot down and inoperable.
'If I didn't have bulletproof glass, I'd be dead'
Law enforcement who responded from as far away as three hours testified earlier in the day about the tasks they were asked to complete during the standoff.
Chris Hendrickson, a North Mankato patrol officer who served on the SWAT team, said he was the driver of the armored BearCat vehicle that helped evacuate residents from the apartment building, among other tasks.
When he arrived at the complex, he first dropped off team members — some first on the back side of the building and then two snipers on the north side of the apartments.
He said as soon as he dropped off the two on the north side, he heard gunfire coming from the direction of the building — what he described as a rifle. The vehicle took one round to a window right behind the driver's seat.
After that he was told to extract a person who had been injured in his vehicle. The man was brought into the armored vehicle with two medics and taken to another location where he was treated.
From there, Hendrickson said he was asked to help evacuate residents from the building and then was asked to drive a group that deployed tear gas into Weiland's apartment. He said one of the tear gas canisters penetrated the window and one did not make it inside.
As soon as the gas was deployed, Hendrickson said the vehicle started to take multiple shots. He said shots at first were random and then it seemed as if the shooter honed in on the vehicle. The windshield was shot three or four times, right in front of his face.
"If I didn't have bulletproof glass, I'd be dead," he said.
He testified he could see bullets come out of the apartment window, and the hole in the window kept getting bigger the more shots were fired.
He estimated that in addition to the three or four rounds to the windshield, the vehicle received damage from one round on the hood and four or five to the side.
After that, the vehicle was deemed compromised and was not used.
Hendrickson said he had been thinking about leaving the SWAT team prior to the Albert Lea incident, but that day was the deciding factor. He left the team at the end of 2020.
Patrol deputy Maria McMonagle of the Nicollet County Sheriff's Office said she was called out as part of the River Valley Tactical Team and arrived in Albert Lea at 4 a.m. that day or shortly after. She operated as a medic that day, first helping shooting victim, Preston Flink, who had been shot in his white sedan. She said she and another medic loaded the man into the back of the armored vehicle.
McMonagle said Flink did not understand what was going on and said he was on his way to work when all of a sudden his leg started hurting. He had heard gunshots earlier in the morning but thought the incident was over.
Eventually they told him he had been shot, and he started to panic. She said the wound was "through and through" to the upper left thigh. Two tourniquets had already been applied before she arrived.
She started him on IV lines, conducted wound control, took blood loss measures and conducted cardiac monitoring until he was transported to the hospital by a Mayo Clinic Ambulance.
McMonagle said after that she was part of the team that deployed tear gas into Weiland's apartment. She said as soon as the gas was launched, she watched the window break to the apartment and then could see rounds come out. Rounds went from hitting the concrete to hitting the BearCat. She described the sound as like hail hitting a tin shed from inside the vehicle.
Though she could not see the shooter, she could see the gun, she said, which was pointed at the BearCat.
'Honestly it was scary'
Troy Utes with the Minnesota State Patrol said he was called to come to Albert Lea as part of the State Patrol's Special Response Team. He drove from Otsego and arrived around 6 a.m. The team is from all over the state.
After staging at the Skyline Plaza, the team sent out a two-man sniper team, and then the rest were to evacuate the second and fourth floors. After that was done, they started to clear the third floor from the south to the north — Weiland's apartment was apartment 303 on the north half of the building. He said they cleared up to the elevator shaft on the floor, which is near the center of the building.
Following that, he was part of a tactical team that stayed in the hallway on the third floor, monitoring Weiland's apartment as a robot outside of his door called out commands and tried to get him to come out of the apartment.
Utes said he held the ballistic shield with one hand and a pistol in the other at the front of the line and was 30 to 40 feet from the apartment. He heard bits and pieces of the conversation with a robot, which was trying to get Weiland to surrender, and other information was relayed through the radio. He said it was dark in the hallway, as the power had been turned off, but he could still see.
When they were notified of the team outside that was going to launch tear gas, they put on gas masks.
After the gas was deployed, he said the shooter fired multiple shots, first to the exterior and then into the hallway from the apartment.
"It was loud and honestly it was scary," Utes said, noting he believed those shots were intended for his team.
He said at one point Weiland's door opened and Weiland popped his head out of the door, looking in both directions. He commanded Weiland show authorities both of his hands.
Utes said Weiland showed one hand and then went back inside his apartment.
Within the hour, Weiland came out and gave himself up, the trooper said.
After authorities arrested Weiland, they cleared the apartment across the hall, which had suffered damage. One person was taken out to safety.
Lt. Tim Salto with the St Cloud district of the Minnesota State Patrol, who is the co-commander of the Special Response Team, testified he saw bullets coming out of the apartment door into the hall and ini the apartment across the hall. He said the rounds pierced through the whole building.
They then went into Weiland's apartment checking for other possible shooters, opening up doors and closets. Three guns were lined up on the floor and had been field stripped.
Salto said there were two rifles — one an SKS style rifle and the other a Russian military rifle — and one single-shot shotgun.
He said there was also garbage, clothing and other items throughout the apartment and that the robot had gotten jammed when they attempted to first use it to enter the apartment.
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