Dakota County Attorney James Backstrom announced that the Dakota County Grand Jury has concluded that
Eagan Police Sergeant Nathan Tennessen was legally justified when he used deadly force in the shooting death of
Justin Lee Kulhanek-Derks, age 37 of Eagan, while responding to a report of a male shooting a handgun near an
apartment/townhouse complex located at 1284 Ironwood Lane, Eagan on August 28, 2016.
Three Eagan police officers responded to the scene in separate vehicles shortly before noon on August 28, 2016
after multiple 911 calls were received related to a person firing a handgun from a motor vehicle parked outside of a
townhouse at the above-referenced location. After arriving and approaching the suspect’s vehicle, Kulhanek-
Derks started backing out of a parking spot, ignored verbal commands from the officers to exit the vehicle, and
fired a handgun in the direction of the officers. Two of the three Eagan officers fired their police assault rifles in
response and a shot fired by Sgt. Tennessen struck Kulhanek-Derks in the head, causing his death. Officers
approached the vehicle, found Kulhanek-Derks slumped over in the driver’s seat with a 9mm handgun in his left
hand. Officers immediately checked Kulhanek-Derks for a pulse and found none. Emergency medical personnel
responded and confirmed that Kulhanek-Derks has died.
The autopsy of Mr. Kulhanek-Derks revealed that he died from one gunshot wound to his head. Toxicology tests
performed on Mr. Kulhanek-Derks as part of the autopsy revealed that he had a blood alcohol concentration of .17
at the time of his death.
Backstrom indicated that it has been the policy of his office since 1990 to present all cases involving the use of
deadly force by a law enforcement officer in Dakota County to a Grand Jury to determine whether or not the use of
such deadly force was legally justified under Minnesota law.
To aid the public in understanding the facts and circumstances surrounding this incident, attached hereto is a memo
prepared by the Chief Deputy of the Dakota County Attorney’s Office. This memo summarizes the information
obtained during the course of this investigation, including the names of the officers involved.
Under Minnesota law, the use of deadly force by a peace officer is justified in the line of duty when necessary:
(1) to protect the peace officer or another person from apparent death or great bodily harm;
(2) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the peace officer knows or has
reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony involving the use or threatened
use of deadly force; or
(3) to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape, of a person whom the officer knows or has
reasonable grounds to believe has committed or attempted to commit a felony if the officer reasonably
believes that the person will cause death or great bodily harm if the person’s apprehension is delayed.1
1 Minn. Stat. § 609.066, subd. 2
In order to bring charges against a peace officer for using deadly force in the line of duty, the State must be able to
prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the use of force was not justified.2 The intentional discharge of a firearm
constitutes deadly force.3
In determining whether a legal justification exists for a peace officer to use deadly force, the facts and
circumstances must be reviewed from the perspective of what would a reasonable peace officer have done at the
time of the incident. The proper inquiry requires careful attention to the facts and circumstances of each particular
case. In making this determination, allowance must be made for the fact that peace officers are often forced to
make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. The question is whether
the peace officer’s actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and a circumstance confronting the
officer, without regard to the officer’s underlying intent or motivation.
Backstrom expressed his sympathy to the family and friends of Justin Lee Kulhanek-Derks whose life was lost in
this incident. Although the Grand Jury has determined that the use of deadly force by this police officer was legally
justified in this instance, any loss of life is a tragic occurrence.
Backstrom also extended his concern for the well-being of the officers involved in this incident and their families
as they deal with and process the emotional impact of a life being taken in the line of duty. Backstrom
commented: “Law enforcement officers are trained to protect and serve our communities each and every day.
Unfortunately there are times when officers are placed in a situation where they must use deadly force to protect
themselves and the public.”
Backstrom thanked the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension which served as the lead investigative agency
regarding this incident and the Apple Valley Police Department, the Mendota Heights Police Department, the
Bloomington Police Department and the Minnesota State Patrol who assisted the Eagan Police Department at the
time of the incident.
Backstrom indicated that the Eagan Police Department does not use body cameras and that none of the squad
videos captured this shooting incident, nor were there any video cameras at this apartment/townhouse complex.
The investigative reports compiled in this case may be accessed by contacting BCA Public Information Officer Jill
Oliveira at 651-793-2726.
DAKOTA COUNTY ATTORNEY’S OFFICE
JAMES C. BACKSTROM
Dakota County Judicial Center
1560 Highway 55
Hastings, Minnesota 55033
Telephone: (651) 438-4438
Fax: (651) 438-4479
DATE: December 14, 2016
TO: James C. Backstrom, County Attorney
FROM: Phillip Prokopowicz, Chief Deputy
SUBJECT: Eagan Police Officer-Involved Shooting Death of Justin Lee Kulhanek-Derks
Eagan PD #16- 6865
On August 28, 2016 at approximately 11:56 a.m. a concerned citizen called 911 and reported that a person (later identified as Justin Lee Kulhanek-Derks) was firing a handgun from a motor vehicle that was parked in the driveway in an apartment/townhouse complex located at 1284 Ironwood Lane, Eagan, Minnesota. The 911 caller reported that the person would repeatedly fire the gun into the air, would pause for a few moments, and then fire the gun into the air again. The police dispatcher could hear the gunshots in the background as she was talking to the 911 caller. The 911 caller described the vehicle and indicated that the person shooting was sitting in as a blue Ford and provided the police dispatcher with a license plate number for the vehicle. Eagan police officers were immediately dispatched to the scene. As police officers were responding additional 911 calls were received by the Dakota County Communication Center reporting gun fire in the area. The dispatcher relayed this information to responding officers.
Eagan Police Sergeant Nathan Tennessen was the first to arrive at the scene. He parked his squad car just southwest of 1284 Ironwood Lane. Sgt. Tennessen immediately removed the AR-15 223 Remington Rifle from its rack in his squad car, exited his squad and began running towards 1284 Ironwood. As Sgt. Tennessen was running towards the residence, Eagan Patrol Officers Alison Burstein and Michael Reuss arrived and parked their squads near Sgt. Tennnessen’s. Both officers removed the AR-15 223 Remington rifles from the racks in the squad cars, exited their squads and began to run in the direction of the 1284 Ironwood Lane. As the three officers began to run up a grassy embankment near this location they observed a motor vehicle matching the description provided by the 911 caller backing out of the driveway of the apartment/townhouse complex. Officers repeatedly yelled for the Kulhanek-Derks to get out of the vehicle. Officers observed Kulhanek-Derks point a handgun in the direction of the officers and fire the handgun. Bullets from the handgun stuck the ground immediately in front of the officers. In response, Sgt. Tennessen and Officer Burstein fired their AR-15 rifles at Kulhanek-Derks. One of the shots hit Kulhanek-Derks on the left side of his head and he slumped over in the vehicle. As officers approached the vehicle they observed Kulhanek-Derks continue to be slumped over in the driver’s seat. In his left hand was a Taurus 9mm handgun with silver plating. Officers immediately checked Kulhanek-Derks for a pulse and found none. Emergency medical personnel responded and confirmed that there was no pulse and that Kulhanek-Derks had died. Eagan police officers, with the assistance of officers from other law enforcement agencies immediately secured the scene.
Within ten minutes of the incident, the Eagan Police Department made a request to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to act as the lead investigative agency into the incident. The BCA Crime Scene Investigative Team responded to the 1284 Ironwood Lane to conduct an investigation which included processing the scene for forensic evidence and interviewing witnesses. The BCA obtained statements from Sgt. Tennessen, Officer Burstein and Officer Ruess. BCA investigators also took statements from 75 witnesses, including apartment/townhouse complex residents and members of Kulhanek-Derks family. 54 pieces of forensic evidence was collected. The Eagan Police Department does not equip their officers with body cameras. The BCA did recover squad videos from responding officers. However, the squad cars were parked in a location away from the actual incident and as a result there was no squad video of the shooting incident. There were also no other video recordings of the incident from the apartment/townhouse complex. 911 and other audio recordings of the incident were recovered by BCA investigators and reviewed.
At the scene investigators recovered twenty 9mm cartridge cases in or near the Kulhanek-Derk’s vehicle. One of the 9mm cartridges was subsequently examined by a scientist at the BCA forensic laboratory who concluded that it was fired from the Taurus 9mm handgun that was found in Kulhanek’s-Derks’ left hand. Eight .223 caliber cartridge casings were recovered near the location where the officers had discharged their rifles. Subsequent forensic analysis indicated that six of the cartridge casings were fired from the rifle used by Sgt. Tennessen and two of the cartridge casings were fired from the rifle used by Officer Burstein. During the time of the autopsy a bullet was recovered from the head of Kulhanek-Derks. Subsequent analysis indicated that this bullet was fired from the rifle used by Sgt. Tennessen.
An autopsy performed by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner concluded that Kulhanek-Derks died as a result of a gunshot wound to the left side of his head. The toxicology performed as part of the autopsy process revealed that at the time of his death Kulhanek-Derks had a blood alcohol concentration of .17.
One of the witnesses interviewed by the BCA was the concerned citizen who first called 911. The 911 caller indicated that he observed three officers approaching the vehicle. The 911 caller stated that as officer’s approached the vehicle they yelled for Kulhanek-Derks to get out of the vehicle. The 911 caller stated he observed Kulhanek-Derks fire the handgun in the direction of the officers and the ground in front of the officers exploding. The 911 caller indicated that the officers responded by firing their rifles at the vehicle.
The BCA interviewed Kulhanek-Derks’ family members. During these interviews family members indicated that Kulhanek-Derks suffered from depression and alcoholism. Investigating officers also recovered text messages from the cell phone of a family member that were recently sent by Kulhanek-Derks. The text messages suggested that he was depressed and wanted to end his life. One of the text messages indicated that he has 30 rounds of ammunition. Another message indicated that he was contemplating having a "mass shoot out" with police.