June 25, 2024

Pope County Officer killed in the line of duty

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By Reed Anfinson

Pope County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Owen, 44, was shot and killed Saturday evening in Cyrus as he, another deputy, and a Starbuck police officer were responding to a domestic incident call around 7:30 p.m.

The other deputy and the Starbuck officer were also wounded. Owen was hospitalized but later died at Glacial Ridge Hospital in Glenwood, the sheriff’s office reported Sunday. The other two law enforcement officers were treated for their injuries but did not require hospitalization.

The man who shot at the officers was killed by return fire from them.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is assisting in the investigation, and law enforcement will provide additional information when available.

Sunday at 1 p.m. the Pope County Sheriff’s Office and the BCA conducted a joint news conference on the incident.

“We are here today to give what details we can at this time,” Pope County Sheriff Tim Riley, who found it difficult to speak through his emotions, said. “Yesterday, April 15, Pope County lost a brother. Our sympathies and love are with Deputy Josh Owen’s family and with the families of the other deputies and officers involved.

“Our community partners, Glacial Ridge Hospital staff, EMTS, and all other public safety and first responders near and far that have assisted during this difficult time have our deepest gratitude,” he said.

“Deputy Owen had a heart as big as his stature. He leaves behind a wife and a son. He loved his family, his brotherhood, and his community. 

“Deputy Owen served the Pope County Sheriff’s Office for nearly 12 years and also served his country in the United States military. 

“At this time, the investigation is still ongoing. The Pope County Sheriff’s Office is following all necessary protocols regarding this officer-involved shooting,” Riley said. “The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will release the other officers’ names and details on conclusion of their investigation.”

He asked people to respect the privacy of Owen’s family and all others involved in the incident.

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension offer their deepest condolences to the family of Deputy Owen, his friends and co-workers, Deputy Superintendent of Investigative Services Scott Mueller said.

“The BCA is leading the investigation into the incident that happened last night in the community of Cyrus,” Mueller said. “The investigation is still in the very early stages, and we will be able to share more details in the coming days. 

“What we know now is that at approximately 7:30 p.m. last night two Pope County deputies and a Starbuck police officer responded to a domestic assault call at an apartment in the 400 block of Stromen Street in the City of Cyrus. 

“When they got there, they went into the home and after some initial investigation, they informed a man at the home that he was under arrest for domestic assault. The man drew a firearm and immediately began shooting it at the officers. In the ensuring exchange of gun fire, the man and all three officers were struck. 

“Life-saving efforts were given to Deputy Owen and the male subject. The male subject died at the scene. Deputy Owen was transported to Glacial Ridge Hospital where he later died,” he said.

Mueller stated that the other deputy and the Starbuck officer were expected to be okay.

The BCA recovered a handgun that was located near the male subject and numerous cartridge casings. among other evidence, he said.

“All officers present were wearing body-worn cameras, which captured video during this incident and will be released at the appropriate time,” Mueller said.

Mueller said the BCA will release the names of the other officers involved at a later date. He also said that the name of the man in the apartment who fired on officers will be released when the BCA has positively identified him.

The BCA is committed to ensuring a thorough, transparent investigation into this incident, he said.

In 2023, there have been seven law enforcement officers shot in the line of duty in Minnesota, he said. “This is an alarming trend that needs to stop now.”

Did the BCA have information on the apartment being the source of calls in the past, Mueller was asked at the new conference. He said his agency did not know if it had been. He added it did know that the man who died at the scene had been in the state for less than a year.

“These officers put on a badge every day committed to going out to the public to protect the citizens of Minnesota, putting their lives on the line for that,” Mueller said. “They are committed to that. They will not stop doing that no matter what they face.”

The Pope County shootings happened a week after two officers were killed during a traffic stop in Barron County, Wisc., and on the same day as the funeral for the two officers.

Last week, a police officer was shot and wounded while serving a search warrant in Granite Falls in western Minnesota.

Legislators, governor express grief, support

District 12A state Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, and District 12B Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, issued the following joint statement:

“We are heartbroken about tonight’s incident in Cyrus — this is a tragic reminder of the dangers that our public safety professionals face protecting our communities. Please join us in praying for the families of the officers, the community of Cyrus, the Starbuck Police Department, and the Pope County Sheriff’s Office.”

Anderson and Franson both represent Pope County in the Minnesota House.

District 12 state Sen. Torrey Westrom also issued a statement:

“I am grieved by last night’s incident in Cyrus. We lift up in prayer the families, friends, and colleagues of Deputy Josh Owen, who tragically lost his life, and the other two law enforcement officers who were injured. Owen’s legacy of service to our community will always be honored and remembered. Our law enforcement officers risk their lives for our protection every day and we must never forget the dangers they face in their job.”

Anderson and Westrom also serve Stevens and Swift counties in the state Legislature.

“Minnesota grieves for the family and colleagues of Pope County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Owen, who was shot and killed in the line of duty last night. Deputy Owen was a husband, a father, a veteran, and a hero,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz. “Gwen and I are praying for his family and community through this tragedy.”

“Our hearts are heavy today as we grieve for Pope County Sheriff’s Deputy Josh Owen, who was killed in the line of duty last night,” Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said. “Our family prays for his loved ones, wishing them peace and comfort through the outpouring of support from Minnesotans across the state.”

Minnesota flags, individuals, and businesses should plan to lower their flags in honor of Deputy Josh Owen on the day of his interment.

MPPOA reaction and statement

“God bless Deputy Owen, the additional wounded and responding officers, the local departments, and every police officer who dedicates their days to keeping us safe,” the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association said in a statement issued Sunday morning.

“Our law enforcement family is deeply saddened by the heartbreaking loss of Deputy Owen, and for the families of the three officers,” MPPOA Director Brian Peters said. “This killing is a senseless act of violence and hate towards police officers who put everything on the line to serve and protect our communities. It shows the dangers of the job that police do every day, and how what could be considered a ‘normal’ day could turn into their last day.”

Owen’s killing “will have a disturbing impact on recruitment, retention, and the mental health and well-being of law enforcement and other emergency first responders,” he added.

Law Enforcement Labor Services, which represents both the Pope County Sheriff’s Office and Starbuck Police Department officers, also spoke about their dedication to duty.

“The sacrifices police officers make every day to protect and serve their communities are both large and small,” LELS Executive Director Jim Mortenson said in a statement. “Today’s injuries and death to these officers illustrates the increased and grave danger posed to law enforcement and communities.”

Owen honored last month

In a post dated March 21 on the Pope County Sheriff’s Facebook page, Deputy Owen was honored for his heroism.

“Last week, we honored Deputy Brody Merrill, Deputy Joshua Owen, Officer Cody Rupert and EMS Director Greg Meyers for their heroic, lifesaving actions during a house fire Nov. 25, 2022, in Glenwood. Deputy Merrill and Officer Rupert entered a burning house, without regard for their own safety in dangerous conditions, and pulled an individual to safety; saving his life. Deputy Owen and EMS Director Meyer arrived on scene and began immediate patient care. 

“They maintained their calm and provided professional care to not only the individual who was removed from the house fire but also their distressed colleagues. 

“For those actions, the Glenwood Police Department awarded Deputy Merrill and Officer Rupert the “Life Saving” award and Deputy Owen and EMS Director Meyers the ‘Distinguished Service’ award.”

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