Mark Eric Henderson’s family filed a lawsuit against the city of Woodbury, alleging use of excessive force, wrongful death, and liability for officers’ negligent conduct related to a 2012 shooting at the Red Roof Inn in Woodbury.
Woodbury Public Safety officers Stacy Krech, Natalie Martin and Anthony Ofsted were named in the suit, which claims they violated an escaped hostage’s Fourth Amendment rights by using excessive force against him. They shot Henderson multiple times as he attempted to escape from a hotel room where 11 people were robbed at gunpoint and four of the room’s occupants — including two girls ages 15 and 16 — were sexually assaulted.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court on Wednesday, Aug. 19.
Less than two weeks before the three-year anniversary of Henderson’s death, Tawana Henderson, next of kin of the late Henderson, is seeking $75,000 for wrongful death and an unnamed amount of money for alleged civil rights violations.
Compensatory damages were requested for mental anguish, pain and suffering, and punitive damages were requested against the officers, as well as attorney’s fees and the costs and expenses of legal action.
According to the lawsuit:
On Aug. 30, 2012, Demetrius Santreell Ballinger drove six people — including Henderson — to the hotel, located in the 1800 block of Wooddale Drive, where his friend, Gerald Victor, had rented a room. Ballinger made several trips to drop off people, including teenage girls.
Ballinger had frustrated by domestic issues, his car (which broke down), and the fact that no patrons showed up at the nearby gas stations when he tried to rob them. He impulsively decided to rob everyone in the hotel room, pointing his 9mm semiautomatic handgun at the occupants, ordering them to place their belongings on the bed.
One of the occupants dialed 911 before relinquishing her phone, leaving an open line.
Police responded to the call, and Krech, Martin and Ofsted were among those in the breezeway with a view through the window of the Ballinger wielding his gun.
As the officers observed the room from their respective angles, Henderson ran out of the room, trying to get away from what had become a hostage situation. He turned left and ran toward the breezeway. He slowed down to a hurried walk and raised his hands when he became aware of the officers near the breezeway.
“None of the officers observed Henderson with a gun or any other weapon, and he was in fact unarmed,” the lawsuit said. “Nevertheless, all three officers fired multiple rounds at Henderson.
“A witness heard him exclaim, ‘I can’t believe you shot me.’
“One of the female officers responded with, ‘Oh my god!’
“Henderson died from his gunshot wounds shortly thereafter.”
On Aug. 31, 2012, 25-year-old Ballinger of Stillwater threatened to kill everyone in the hotel room, including himself, but eventually surrendered.
When the 19-year-old Henderson of St. Paul exited the room, police believed him to be a fleeing suspect and only later found out he was unarmed. It was later determined that he was unarmed and had been shot from inside the room, as well. A grand jury cleared the Woodbury officers of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting, which followed a party involving alcohol and marijuana, then a four-hour standoff.
Henderson died at the hospital.
Admitting murder and rape charges, Ballinger made a plea deal and was sentenced to 36 years in prison.
Amid much public outcry, the Red Roof Inn was sold and began operations under new management in 2013.
Dispatchers and negotiators were given awards for their valor.
The family is “seeking relief from defendants’ unlawful practices,” the suit said.
A jury trial is requested in the civil lawsuit.
“The city has not yet been served the lawsuit so we are unable to comment at this time,” Woodbury Public Information Officer Michelle Okada said via email.