By Mark Stodghill
Duluth News Tribune
DULUTH — The family of Zachary Premo is upset with police and looking for answers as to why "a DWI investigation" led to the 26-year-old man lying dead on the ground near his parents' home after being shot by officers early Tuesday morning, a family spokesman said.
Duluth defense attorney David Malban spoke to the News Tribune on behalf of the Premo family in a phone interview Wednesday night.
"The question is why does a DWI investigation result in a tragic gun death?" Malban said. "It's going to be a long process learning exactly what happened and we may never know why. Obviously, there is a process involved. The BCA (Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) is involved and there is the investigation. Everybody in the family wants to know why. Why did something like this have to happen? There are no easy answers today to that question."
Malban said the BCA briefed Premo family members Wednesday.
"The BCA has kept the family involved as to the pertinent facts that they can release at this time, and they've done a good job of sharing the information that they are able to share," he said.
Duluth police provided their account of the incident in a news conference Tuesday afternoon. They say the incident began about 2 a.m. Tuesday when officers responded to a report of a single-vehicle crash in the area of Orange Street and Arlington Avenue. The driver fled the scene, so an officer went to 319 E. Locust St., the address associated with the crashed vehicle.
That's where police say an officer encountered Premo armed with a handgun about 2:30 a.m. The officer radioed for assistance and shouted commands at him. The second officer in the area arrived to help, and both officers repeated loud verbal commands to get Premo to comply. The encounter lasted for more than three minutes, according to police. When the officers attempted to take Premo into custody, they said, he reached for the area where his gun was located. Both officers fired at Premo, who was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Duluth Police Department identified the officers Wednesday as Matthew Hendrickson, a seven-year veteran of the department, and Jacob Peterson, a four-year veteran. Neither officer was physically injured. The officers will be placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard procedure in these cases.
Duluth Deputy Police Chief Mike Tusken said he understands the family's grief.
"When we or other police departments are involved in officer-involved shootings, one of the things we often hear is that the behavior that police are reporting is not indicative of the person's character or normal behavior," Tusken said. "But when these officer-involved shootings happen, we are responding to people at their worst. And it's a very tragic and unfortunate incident, certainly for the family and for our officers. We empathize and sympathize with them for their loss. We do."
Malban called Premo "a terrific kid, obviously." The young man graduated from Duluth Central High School in 2005, where he played hockey and soccer and was the goalie on the Trojans' 2003 state tournament soccer team. He was employed as a meat cutter at Texas Roadhouse restaurant and had qualified and placed in many meat-cutting competitions.
Malban said Premo had a handgun at some point during the incident, but couldn't say anything about the way the man handled, positioned or brandished the weapon. "Not at this time, I cannot," Malban said. He said Premo had a permit to carry a handgun, but the attorney said he didn't know if the permit was still in effect.
The preliminary autopsy indicated that Premo was shot multiple times. When Malban was asked for a precise number, he said: "It was bad. It was bad."
Malban was asked what Premo did that led officers to use their weapons.
"I think that's the real answer that we all want to know," he said. "That answer is out there in the future for us. We don't know the precise answer to that question or even the general answer. It's a homicide. These types of encounters are classified legally as a homicide."
It will be up to a county attorney to determine whether it was justifiable homicide.
St. Louis County Attorney Mark Rubin said Wednesday night that when the BCA completes its investigation, it will submit its reports to him. Rubin said he hasn't ruled out having the investigative reports reviewed by an attorney in another county attorney's office to determine whether the use of deadly force was justified.
"Such a tragedy," Rubin said. "Our deepest condolences go out to the Premo family and our thoughts are with the officers involved in the shooting."
Among Premo's survivors are his wife, Lindsay; his parents, Terrance and Patricia; and brothers Brian and Christopher.
Anyone with information about the incident is asked to contact the BCA at (651) 793-7000.
McClatchy-Tribune News Service
Copyright 2013 the Duluth News Tribune (Duluth, Minn.)