The Pine County Attorney’s Office will not charge Pine County Deputy Josh Pepin in the fatal shooting of Anthony Michael Legato, 25, of Oak Park, citing Pepin’s use of deadly force in the line of duty was necessary to protect himself or others from death or great bodily harm.
Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson’s decision came after reviewing the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s investigation into the shooting death of Legato on Oct. 9, 2020. The BCA investigation included evaluating the body camera and squad camera footage of the incident and interviewing incident participants and witnesses.
After reviewing the investigation results, Frederickson called the incident and his decision “pretty clear cut.”
Frederickson explained the reasons for his decision in a 13-page memorandum released Friday, Feb. 5. The memorandum concludes Pepin’s use of deadly force in the line of duty was necessary to protect himself or others..
“To me, this wasn’t a close call,” Frederickson said of his decision.
The county attorney said today’s use of video cameras very helpful, since video can be viewed multiple times, slowed down and closely examined, unlike eyewitness testimony.
“When you have body cams and footage like this, it is almost vital in cases like this ... We’re just human beings,” he said. “People perceive things how they will perceive things, but they aren’t necessarily how things happened.”
Frederickson said that eyewitnesses perceptions can be skewed by their own biases, or simply by adrenaline of quickly occurring events. He said police officers tend to recall events more accurately than civilians due to their training to function and perceive events under stress.
Shooting on Oct. 9
Pepin shot and killed Anthony Michael Legato, 25, of Oak Park during a confrontation on Interstate 35 on Friday, Oct. 9. The incident happened in the northbound lanes of Interstate 35 near mile marker 180 and the Mora exit.
Pine County Sheriff’s Office deputies responded to a 911 call on Friday around 1:45 p.m. from the victim of an reported domestic incident at the Grand Casino Hinckley. The investigation shows Legato had been using a borrowed ID and false name to gamble.
According to the County Attorney’s memorandum, Legato was allegedly involved in a physical confrontation with a person in the hotel. The person began screaming, drawing the attention of hotel staff and security. Legato left the hotel room, and got into his vehicle in the parking lot which was a Ford Expedition SUV with a 4x8 trailer carrying a motorcycle.
The assault victim warned security staff that Legato was violent and armed with a firearm. He was also in possession of large amount of methamphetamine. The victim explained that due to his previous experiences with law enforcement, Legato would likely use the firearm against officers if confronted. That message was broadcast to the responding deputies.
On their way to the casino, the deputies spotted the suspect’s vehicle and began to pursue it. During the 4.6-mile pursuit, Legato called 911.
The memo describes the call:
... his voice was high-pitched, he was shouting and agitated (consistent with methamphetamine use). Much of the recording was incomprehensible due to Decedent’s state. However, he stated that his “car won’t stop and the police are right behind me” and “my car is f***ed-up and I am not responsible for this.” He yelled that he “needed help.” He then claimed to be a passenger in the vehicle and that his name was Steve. The Dispatcher asked him multiple times for the driver’s name and he refused to answer.
Legato entered I-35 the wrong way, driving south in the northbound lane and into oncoming traffic. Shortly after this, Legato pulled to the side of the highway and exited his vehicle. It appeared that Legato was attempting to pull the motorcycle off the trailer.
At this time, deputy Pepin was driving northbound on I-35 and pulled over immediately south of Legato’s vehicle, with the two vehicles facing each other. As Pepin exited his squad, Legato reentered his vehicle and began to drive toward Pepin and into oncoming traffic.
Pepin fired four shots into the oncoming vehicle, the fourth struck Legato, after which Legato’s vehicle rolled forward, crashing into an oncoming vehicle and then came to a stop in the median.
In his statement to the BCA investigators, Pepin said, “I felt in fear of my safety that he was either gonna take me out or the lady that was parked in the fast lane.”
Wearing a backpack, Legato stepped out of the SUV and stumbled to the ground.
Deputies first handcuffed Legato then began providing medical assistance, but EMTs pronounced Legato deceased at the scene.
He was taken to the Midwest Medical Examiner’s Office for identification and autopsy. The autopsy revealed death was the caused by a gunshot wound to the torso. The bullet perforated Legato’s left lung, aorta, esophagus and right lung. The autopsy also showed Legato had a high level of methamphetamine in his body.
Inside the backpack, officers found a stolen .45 Smith & Wesson, a Ruger SR40, a methamphetamine pipe and 18.396 grams of methamphetamine.
Legato had five prior felony convictions in Minnesota and Illinois which prohibited him from possessing firearms. These convictions were for receiving stolen property, for financial transaction card fraud, first degree burglary, and one for theft by swindle. Legato also had warrants for his arrest in multiple cases that include charges of domestic abuse domestic assault by strangulation, fleeing police, making terroristic threats, burglary and receiving stolen property.
One of the handguns found in Legato’s possession was confirmed as stolen from a vehicle in Anoka County three weeks before the incident.
Squad and body camera footage of the incident has not yet been released to the public.
Family members of Legato joined with demonstrators at the BCA headquarters in St. Paul on Jan. 22 to call for the results of the investigation and the release of body camera and squad camera footage of the incident.
“My son was a loving, caring young man with many friends,” said Anthony’s father Michael Legato in a statement. “Anthony’s death leaves us all heartbroken and leaves his 3-year-old son without a father.”
Deputy Pepin has been a deputy with the Pine County Sheriff’s Office since November 2015. The Pine County Sheriff’s Office reports that he has never had a complaint or disciplinary issue lodged against him.