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Ruling: Police killing of man with knife in St. James store was justified

August 7, 2018

Authorities have determined that an assistant police chief in south-central Minnesota was squarely within her rights when she fatally shot a 20-year-old man with a knife early this year after he led officers on a high-speed chase.

The ruling in the shooting of Gilberto Salas in a St. James convenience store was made by the Washington County Attorneys Office, to avoid potential conflicts of interests, and was released Monday by the Watonwan County Attorneys Office.

The only reasonable conclusion to be drawn from this set of facts is that Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson fired on Salas in self-defense and squarely within her rights, wrote Washington County Attorney Pete Orput in a letter to prosecutors in Watonwan County.

Orputs letter disclosed a detailed account of the events surrounding the shooting of Salas, of Gaylord, Minn., Jan. 31 at the Caseys General Store at 620 2nd Av. S.

About 12:15 p.m. that day, emergency dispatch reported someone driving a stolen SUV stopped at the Caseys and stole a six-pack of beer. Hanson followed the SUV and recognized the driver as Salas from previous contacts with him.

At 1 p.m., officers spotted Salas driving the vehicle in St. James. He fled at speeds estimated at 60 miles per hour through residential neighborhoods, the BCA said. Officers pulled back but continued to follow until Salas vehicle got stuck in a snowbank.

Salas then fled on foot into the Caseys with the officers right behind. Salas briefly shut himself in an office, then emerged carrying a knife with a 3-inch blade. Officer struck him with Taser shots, but Salas ignored the officers commands to drop the knife and advanced toward Hanson.

Come here, come here, Salas said to Hanson, who kept backing up. She responded with warnings that she would shoot him if he didnt drop the knife.

Moments later, she shot Salas, striking him at least once in the head. BCA personnel recovered a knife from the floor next to where Salas fell.

Toxicology tests revealed that Salas had a blood alcohol content of 0.055 percent, below what is considered intoxicated. A presence of methamphetamine also was detected.

The letter from the Washington County attorney elaborated on its rationale, saying, that while many officer-involved shootings are presented to grand juries for their consideration ... the facts of this case are so clear that it would be a waste of valuable public resources to convene a grand jury in this matter. ... There is no question that the actions of [Hanson] in this matter were wholly justified.

Vanessa Naveunxay, a friend of Salas, said Tuesday that I just dont understand how he supposedly trapped her in a corner with a knife with two other officers in the store. A lot of what they said just doesnt add up to me.

She added that I personally feel like she did it intentionally because she didnt like the Salas family at all. [Hanson] always gave Gil a hard time. ... Theres so much I can say about this, but I wont. Ill leave it at that. I just dont think the system justified this.

Paul Walsh 612-673-4482

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