Months after a Pine County Sheriff's Deputy shot and killed 25-year-old Anthony Legato, the Pine County Attorney's Office has declared the use of force as justified.
The incident took place on the afternoon of October 9, 2020, following a domestic dispute between Legato and his girlfriend at the Grand Casino Hotel in Hinckley, where he was reportedly staying under a false name. An investigation later determined the name to be that of the girlfriend's brother.
According to a memorandum from the Attorney's Office, Legato had a Domestic Abuse No Contact Order (DANCO) due to an open felony case where the girlfriend was the alleged victim. The memo went on to state that during their stay at the hotel the two began to fight. Legato reportedly struck the victim in the leg, causing her to fall, and pressed a .45 caliber handgun to her cheek after spitting on her. He fled the hotel after the victim began screaming for help because he feared getting in trouble.
The victim used a phone to call hotel security, where she stated that her boyfriend had assaulted her, stating that he had firearms, a large bag of methamphetamine, and was headed out of the casino. Legato fled in a tan Ford Expedition, pulling a trailer containing a crotch rocket.
Just before 2:00 p.m, Pine County Chief Deputy Paul Widenstrom was traveling in an unmarked squad car when he met Legato on County Highway 61 near Beroun. Widenstrom reported that Legato had figured out "who he was" and made a u-turn in a residential driveway heading northbound on the highway. During the pursuit, Widenstrom reported that Legato was driving aggressively.
Deputy Joshua Pepin approached the pursuit from behind and overtook Chief Deputy Widenstrom because Deputy Pepin's squad car was equipped with a camera. Pine County Sheriff's Office policy dictates that the lead squad in a vehicle pursuit should be the vehicle with a squad camera.
The pursuit continued northbound on Highway 61 where it reached speeds of 85 to 90 miles per hour. Legato eventually made it through the sharp curve on Highway 61 before the I-35 bridge. He then took a sharp left turn into the exit ramp heading northbound in the southbound I-35 lanes. As Legato entered the freeway, Deputy Chief Widenstrom called off the pursuit. None of the officers reportedly followed Legato down the exit ramp.
Legato drove the wrong way for about a half mile before exiting the vehicle, and he attempted to remove the crotch rocket from the trailer to flee. During that time, Deputy Pepin was traveling parallel to Legato in the southbound lanes in an attempt to warn traffic heading northbound toward the suspect.
When Pepin noticed that Legato had stopped, he made a u-turn south of the bridge and parked his squad near Legato's vehicle on the right side of the freeway. As Pepin stopped his squad, Legato got back behind the wheel of his Expedition. Pepin then got out of the squad, stood behind the driver’s door, pointed his weapon with both hands at the Expedition through the space between the open door and the door jamb, and yelled at the Expedition.
Legato reportedly ignored the deputy's command and pulled into oncoming traffic. This is when Pepin fired his first shot, which hit the driver’s side of the hood, but Legato did not stop.
Pepin then fired two more shots both striking the Expedition. The report went onto say that when the vehicle was parallel to the squad, Pepin fired a final shot into the driver's side window. After the fourth shot, Legato's vehicle slowed down and struck a Subaru that was parked on the side of the freeway. Legato then got out of the vehicle and took two steps before he fell face forward onto the pavement in the left lane. He was wearing a grey backpack when he exited the vehicle and collapsed. Law enforcement immediately began life-saving procedures for the next nine minutes until EMTs arrived and took over.
In the backpack Legato was wearing, officers found two handguns, a .45 Smith & Wesson and a Ruger SR40. They also found a methamphetamine pipe and 18.396 grams of methamphetamine. DNA analysis of both firearms found Legato's DNA on the grips of both guns and on the trigger of the .45. The Smith & Wesson was discovered to have been stolen out of a vehicle in Anoka County three weeks before the incident.
An autopsy revealed that Legato's death was caused by a gunshot wound to the torso.
On February 5, 2021, Pine County Attorney Reese Frederickson announced that the use of force by Deputy Joshua Pepin was justified. His decision followed a three-month investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
Minnesota State Law says that deadly use of force is justified if a reasonable officer would believe that it was necessary to protect the officer or another from great bodily harm or death.
"In this case, he (Legato) is in a large SUV," Frederickson told WCMP. "It's like 16 feet long, 5000 pounds, and has a trailer with a motorcycle on the back, and he is using this in a matter that it is basically a weapon."
Frederickson said that had Deputy Pepin not acted, there was a high chance that Legato would have killed others. It was Legato's actions during the pursuit, leading up to the shooting that they believe Pepin's use of force was justified by state statute, and they will not issue a complaint or present the case to a grand jury.