Minneapolis police kill Black man having an apparent mental health crisis

Minneapolis Police officers once again shot and killed a Black man during an apparent mental health crisis.

At around 4:30 am Thursday on the 900 block of 21st Avenue, just north of Franklin Avenue, Minneapolis Police officers Aaron Pearson and Zachary Seraphine fired shots that killed Tekle Alemu Lonse, whose government name is Andrew Tekle Sundberg.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the case, stated it does not know which officer fired the fatal shots that came from a sniper rifle from a building across the street. According to a search warrant, investigators recovered “less-than-lethal” fired rounds and a pistol with an extended magazine, as well as spent bullets from another apartment in the building.

The shooting concluded a tense standoff that started at 9:30 pm the evening prior. A mother in the building, identified in reports as Arabella Foss-Yarbrough, called 911 to report bullets piercing through the wall of their apartment, which were reportedly fired from a weapon that Sundberg had.

Police reportedly negotiated with him and brought in his adopted parents, however according to the Star Tribune the police restricted their ability to help. Sundberg was reportedly unarmed when he was shot.

“He didn’t have a weapon at that time [they killed him]. He was not a threat. He was taking selfies,” said neighbor Craig Trotter, citing a video taken by a bystander, shortly before a somber vigil of 50 people organized by local activists.

The family has reportedly retained attorneys Ben Crump and Jeff Storms, both of whom have been retained by the family of George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Amir Locke after local police killed them.

Remembering Sundberg

Sundberg was born in Ethiopia in 2001 and adopted by a White family. He was involved with DinoMights, a youth hockey group that also provides participants with tutoring.

In 2015, Sundberg suffered an ATV crash that resulted in a concussion, broken arm, hip bruises, and face and stomach lacerations, which resulted in him missing two weeks of school, according to a GoFundMe established for him.

At the vigil, which was held in front of the apartment building Sundberg perished in, family members, teachers, and classmates remembered him, a recent graduate of Roosevelt High School in South Minneapolis, as spiritual and passionate, particularly about art and farming.

“He just liked to be busy. It didn’t matter what it was, he liked to farm so he put together so many things for my class,” said Shannon Nordby, who had Tekle in her class for a year and a half, at the vigil as she fought back tears. “It makes me sick to think about the art that Tekle would do and send. It takes my breath away to think about his beautiful art.”

Indeed, Sundberg loved to contemplate and move around, and often shared videos of himself thinking and dancing on Tiktok, a social media platform.

At the time of his death, he had no criminal record and no outstanding warrants in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey, and Washington County. Scott County Sheriffs’ Office could not be reached to verify outstanding warrants at press time.

A GoFundMe established by family friends has raised over $10,000 as of this writing.

The officers

Both officers involved in killing Sundberg had Office of Police Conduct Review complaints filed against them. Pearson has 11 complaints, 10 of which are closed with no discipline. Seraphine has three complaints, all of which were closed with no discipline. Seraphine was also a firefighter for the Centennial Fire District, which serves Centerville and Circle Pines in northern Anoka County.

This is not the first time both were involved in high-stakes confrontations with Black men. Both were on the SWAT team that was involved in the killing of Amir Locke, with Pearson possessing the keys to open the door to the apartment Locke was sleeping in and handcuffing him after Locke was shot, while Seraphine provided medical care. Pearson also commended Officer Mark Hanneman, the officer who shot and killed Locke.

Seraphine in July 2020 was also involved in a traffic stop where officers pulled over a vehicle with Somali males because they matched a description of those involved in a robbery in Uptown. Also, Pearson in January 2021 shot a rubber bullet during a confrontation with Zedrick Andrew Cooper in North Minneapolis. Cooper, who is Black, was apprehended alive and was later charged with assault and unlawful firearm and ammunition possession.

Mental health crisis

Sundberg’s friends and neighbors were concerned about his mental state leading to his death, with Trotter saying he has had altercations with him that did not result in his death. “So, he is a little off. He’s a mental[ly ill] guy. And we do know him around the neighborhood. I’ve got[ten] into an altercation with him plenty of times, [but] he [didn’t] die because I got physical,” said Trotter.

Trotter wonders if this could have been handled differently. “They could have gotten physical. They could have used tear gas, smoke gas, anything, a bang, because they have all this. I know they do. They could have threw that in there easily,” said Trotter.

He added, “I’m trying to figure out why he’s dead. He kept telling them [to] leave them alone. And they tell them to come to the window. Then he came to the window and got shot. So, it’s like, ‘Hey, come to the window and get shot.’ [It doesn’t] add up.”

The city did not deploy mental health crisis responders for safety reasons because a deadly weapon—in this case, a gun—was involved.

The fate of the team hangs in the balance anyway, as Mayor Jacob Frey proposed to transfer four of six positions in the Office of Performance and Innovation, which oversees the crisis responders, as part of the coming year’s budget.

Marcia Howard, who teaches at Roosevelt High School and is a caretaker at George Floyd Square, was visibly angry and frustrated having heard of a similar incident in Faribault, an hour south of Minneapolis, on the same day, where a person having a mental health crisis was apprehended alive.

“They tried every tactic available to them, including finally going in with less lethal weapons in order to, you know, cleverly disarm him to save his life,” said Howard. “They didn’t care that he was obviously mentally ill. They didn’t care that he was doing the thing they called ‘suicide by cop.’ All they cared about was preserving this person’s life, which you know, is part of their oath.”

Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley, who participated in the vigil, has close friends who knew and mentored Tekle and expressed hurt by the killing. Said Conley, “It’s even worse when you’re in a position like me, where I [have] really been trying to push for more funds to go into mental health crisis response. But when you do that, and the actual enforcement officers aren’t willing to partner, aren’t willing to take what it is that we’ve created at the scene of a crisis and use it, then what’s it for?”

It’s also unclear if residents are being afforded mental health services after experiencing the standoff.

A GoFundMe page to pay for Sundberg’s funeral expenses has been set up here: www.gofundme.com/f/honoring-tekle-funeral-expenses.

A GoFund Me page to help Arabella Foss-Yarbrough has also been set up here www.gofundme.com/f/help-a-single-mother-and-gun-violence-survivor.

The MSR will continue to follow this story as it develops.