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St. Paul officer cleared in death

Author / Coordinator: Bill Gardner
St. Paul Pioneer Press
May 2002

A St. Paul police officer who shot and killed an innocent man who was struggling with a carjacker will not face criminal charges, the Ramsey County grand jury decided Friday.

Officer Michael Lee, a 13-year veteran of the St. Paul Police Department, was cleared in the death of 46-year-old Charles Craighead.

Craighead was struggling with Carlos Scott on Dec. 3 at Marshall Avenue and Oxford Street after Scott allegedly pulled a handgun and tried to take Craighead’s car. Authorities say Scott had just shot another man in an incident several blocks away.

When Lee arrived on the scene, Craighead had wrested the gun away from Scott, but the two men were still struggling. Lee, who later said the gun was pointed at him, fired his shotgun, killing Craighead and wounding Scott.

A witness talking to a police dispatcher on her cell phone said the "good guy" had taken the gun from his attacker.

Lee did not receive that information, according to Scott County Attorney Tom Harbinson, who presented the case to the grand jury to avoid a conflict of interest by Ramsey County prosecutors.

Shortly before the shooting, the police dispatcher told officers that "one of the males took a gun away from another male." Lee fired his gun within seconds of that transmission.

Harbinson said the evidence showed that "Officer Lee did not hear any information about Craighead having taken the gun away from the man he was struggling with."

Harbinson said the two-day grand jury hearing was among the longer grand jury hearings he has seen.

"They heard a lot of evidence in this case," Harbinson said.

The shooting of Craighead, who is African-American, raised concerns about racism, and leaders of the St. Paul African-American community called for the grand jury review.

"The main concern here is an innocent bystander… was killed," said Nathaniel Khaliq, president of the St. Paul chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Khaliq said he wants to meet with Harbinson to talk about the case, as well as with other African-American leaders to discuss the possibility of requesting a federal investigation of the case.

Craighead’s family has filed a lawsuit against Lee and the city of St. Paul, contending that Lee violated Craighead’s constitutional rights by using deadly force without good reason.

John Goetz, the attorney for the Craighead family, said the family is not upset that Lee was not charged with a crime. "Our goal in the lawsuit is not to prove that Officer Lee committed a crime," Goetz said. "It is to prove he negligently used excessive force when he killed Mr. Craighead."

Craighead, a house painter, had been meeting with a customer at the time of the incident.

With the grand jury investigation complete, St. Paul police internal investigators will now look into the shooting, said police spokesman Michael Jordan, adding that it is standard procedure.

Lee was not available for an interview, Jordan said. The 41-year-old officer has since returned to duty.

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