The following story was printed in last weeks Plaindealer. Be sure to pick up your print edition of the Plaindealer this week for the latest details regarding the shooting.
The St. James community faced any community’s worst nightmare last week when 20-year old Gilberto Salas was tragically killed during an officer-involved shooting.
Although the investigation still remains active and many questions are still unanswered some information has been made available by the BCA.
Timeline of events
The following information was released from the BCA.
Nicollet County sheriff’s deputies late Wednesday morning spotted a vehicle in LaFayette that earlier in the day had been reported stolen in New Ulm.
A pursuit ensued that included deputies with the Nicollet, Blue Earth and Brown County sheriff’s departments, the New Ulm and North Mankato police departments and the Minnesota State Patrol. Eventually, the male driver was identified and the pursuit called off for safety reasons.
Approximately a half hour later, the vehicle was spotted in St. James. Officers followed the vehicle until the man drove into a snowbank where the vehicle became disabled. The man then fled on foot into a business on the 600 block of 2nd Avenue South in St. James where he hid alone in an office.
Law enforcement from the St. James Police Department, the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Department and the Minnesota State Patrol entered the business. At one point, several officers deployed multiple Taser rounds. Later, another officer discharged their firearm, striking Salas. Salas was taken by ambulance to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in St. James, where he was pronounced deceased.
Late Friday evening the BCA released the names of the officers involved in the shooting and preliminary facts about the investigation.
ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) has identified the three officers who discharged their weapons during an officer-involved shooting incident on January 31 in St. James. Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson has been in law enforcement for 18 years including 14 years with the St. James Police Department. Hanson discharged her Taser and her firearm. Trooper Jacob Ruppert, who has been in law enforcement for 11 years including one year with the Minnesota State Patrol, discharged his Taser. Sergeant Barry Gulden, who has been with the Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office for 22 years, discharged his Taser. The Ramsey County Medical Examiner identified the deceased yesterday as Gilberto NMN Salas, 20, of Gaylord. Salas died of multiple gunshot wounds. The BCA is investigating the officer-involved shooting at the request of the St. James Police Department. Nicollet County sheriff’s deputies at 11:45 a.m. Wednesday spotted a vehicle in LaFayette that earlier Wednesday was reported stolen in New Ulm. A pursuit ensued that included deputies with the Nicollet, Blue Earth and Brown County sheriff’s departments, the New Ulm and North Mankato police departments and the Minnesota State Patrol. The pursuit reached speeds up to 120 miles per hour and wound through Nicollet and Blue Earth counties. Investigators were able to identify the driver as Salas and they called off the pursuit for safety reasons. At approximately 1 p.m., officers spotted Salas driving the vehicle in St. James in Watonwan County. Salas fled at speeds estimated at 60 miles per hour through residential neighborhoods. Officers pulled back but continued to follow the vehicle until Salas’ vehicle became disabled in a snowbank. Salas then fled on foot into the Casey’s General Store at 620 2nd Avenue South. A female acquaintance of Salas who was a passenger in the vehicle was not involved in the vehicle theft and did not enter the store. According to the BCA’s preliminary investigation, Salas entered the store immediately followed by the officers. Sergeant Gulden fired his Taser, striking Salas. Salas briefly shut himself in an office behind the service counter then emerged approximately two minutes later carrying a knife. Salas ignored the officers’ commands to drop the knife and Trooper Ruppert and Assistant Chief Hanson both fired their Tasers, striking Salas again. Salas then advanced toward Assistant Chief Hanson. Hanson discharged her firearm, striking Salas. Officers called for an ambulance and immediately rendered medical aid. Salas was taken by ambulance to the Mayo Clinic Health System hospital in St. James where he was pronounced deceased. BCA crime scene personnel recovered a knife from the store floor next to where Salas fell. Assistant Chief Hanson sustained a minor injury to the left hand. She was taken by ambulance to the hospital where she was treated and released. Store surveillance cameras and Trooper Ruppert’s Taser camera captured portions of the confrontation, but none captured the shooting itself. No officers were wearing body cameras and there is no dash camera footage of the shooting. Assistant Chief Hanson, Trooper Ruppert, and Sergeant Gulden are all on standard administrative leave. The investigation is active and ongoing. When the investigation is complete, the BCA will turn its findings over to the Watonwan County Attorney’s Office for review.
Search Warrants filed
On Friday, two separate search warrants were filed in Watonwan County According to the search warrants filed in Watonwan County:
On Jan. 31 Detective Slater was monitoring a vehicle pursuit in Brown and Blue Earth Counties. Detective Slater was told the suspect, Gilberto Salas, DOB 02/12/1997 wearing an orange jumpsuit stole a motor vehicle with Minnesota License plate #090NCX, on a 2011 Silver Dodge Journey. Detective Slater learned the vehicle was possibly en route to Watonwan County and the pursuing counties discontinued their pursuit. Detective Slater learned from Chief Rob Prescher of the Madelia Police Department the vehicle was spotted turning west onto Watonwan County Road 3 (290th Street). Chief Prescher advised he was not going to pursue because the suspect had been identified. Detective Slater learned from radio communication from dispatch at 1244 hours, Casey’s Convenience Store located at 620 2nd Avenue South, St. James, MN, advised a male dressed in a red jumpsuit came into the store and stole a pack of beer. Dispatch advised Detective Slater the male then got into a gray SUV bearing Minnesota plate number 090NCX and left the parking lot westbound on 2nd Avenue South. Members of the St. James Police Department and Watonwan County Sheriff’s Office followed the vehicle around the City of St. James, Detective Slater approached the vehicle. A short time later Detective Slater heard on the radio the suspect almost hit St. James Assistant Chief Rochelle Hanson in her squad. Detective Slater learned Assistant Chief Hanson followed the suspect in the vehicle until he exited the car. Assistant Chief Hanson advised over the radio the suspect was going back towards Casey’s. Detective Slater arrived at Casey’s and observed the suspect run into the manager’s office. Detective Slater observed the suspect had been tased and was then able to get the door shut. A short time after Detective Slater heard gunshots from inside the building. Detective Slater learned the suspect has been shot by law enforcement. The suspect was transported to the St. James Medical Center where he was pronounced dead. According to the search warrant receipts from Casey’s the following was collected: bullets, one Corona beer bottle, cigarettes, a knife along with other trace and physical evidence. According to the search warrant of the car five empty Corona Bottles were collected as well an empty 40 oz Miler High Life.
Mayor Sturm releases press release
On Saturday Mayor Gary Sturm shared the following press release with the Plaindealer. I would like to make a press statement to the St. James community regarding the incident that occurred at Casey’s on Wednesday afternoon. The BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) has taken over the investigation immediately after the incident happened. They are thoroughly investigating the incident. Because the BCA has taken over the investigation, myself, council members, city staff, and the city police department cannot legally discuss anything about the incident. When the BCA has completed their investigation, its report will be turned over to the Watonwan County Attorney’s Office. When the county attorney completes his review, the information will be public. It is our desire to get all of the facts out to everyone in the community so the many questions that are being asked will be answered to the best of our ability. In the meantime, I would ask for patience, understanding, and thoughts and prayers to go out to everyone involved, and also to our entire community to start the healing process. Active investigation continues: As of press time the shooting is still an active investigation.
MN ACLU reacts to shooting
In an press release after the shooting the ACLU of Minnesota said “Whenever police kill someone it is a tragedy. A police shooting can hurt the whole community, especially when it happens in a small town like Saint James. The residents of Saint James, along with the family of Gilbert Salas, deserve to know what happened in this tragic incident. The investigation should be transparent and timely.” “Our thoughts are with the loved ones of Gilbert Salas and the community of Saint James. Salas is the second individual killed by police in Minnesota in 2018. In 2017 police killed nine individuals in Minnesota. There are better ways to keep communities safe that don’t result in such frequent killings, with disproportionately high numbers of the victims being indigenous people or people of color.” In the press release they also called for the release of any convenience store video of the incident which has not been done at the time of press.
Salas’s ties to the community
Although Salas was born in Windom he grew up in St. James where he attended St. James High School. Salas met the mother of his two children Vanessa Naveunxay while they were both students at St. James High School. The majority of Salas’s family lives in Texas and Go fund me pages have been created by different individuals to help raise funds for funeral expenses and having the body sent to Texas. According to one Go Fund me page Salas’s serviced were held on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Plaindealer was the first news source on scene and will continue to provide updates as they become available both in print and online.