May 06, 2005

Profile In Courage, Institutional Arrogance

The shooting of Sgt. Vick brought back a number of the events from Saint Paul's last police shooting.

One of the events in the 1994 shooting was the story of Lyle Granlund. The lifelong eastsider was a hero that day - almost completely unsung outside the Police Department.

His heroic story has a dark side, though, if you live in Ramsey County.

I interviewed Granlund for a pro-Second-Amendment publication in late 1994. Ruben Rosario of the PiPress revisited the story last year, a few months after Granlund died of a heart attack.


Retired St. Paul cop Rennie Renteria, a 25-year veteran who worked alongside Ryan and considered the rookie cop a son, did just that last week at Lyle Granlund's burial site.

"That was the worst day of my life, but I'll never forget what he did,'' Renteria said of the man who, 10 years ago today, witnessed the aftermath of Ryan's cold-blooded execution, shot at the cop killer's getaway vehicle and then helped administer CPR to the mortally wounded 26-year-old officer. "He was a true hero, even if he never felt like one, and he became a member of the police family that day.''

To call Lyle Granlund an expert marksman would be to call Jimi Hendrix a pretty good guitarist. This is not just descriptive hyperbole; it's important, later in the story, which resumes with Rosario; I've added some emphasis in the middle of this bit. Note it mentally, we'll come back to it.
Responding to gunshots, Granlund looked out the window and saw Guy Harvey Baker, a 26-year-old drifter from Iowa and a combat veteran, standing near Ryan's body before getting into a car.

He pondered taking Baker out, but feared getting in trouble for firing his gun and taking a human life. Instead, he aimed and punched two quarter-size holes at the bottom corner of the windshield on the passenger side. Baker, who apparently had thoughts of heading toward a nearby Interstate 94 ramp for a quick escape, was forced to change directions toward a residential neighborhood.

Hoping to mark the car so police could identify it, Granlund fired a third shot from his 9-mm pistol that shattered the back window as Baker fled. He then rushed to Ryan's aid, along with two arriving cops and a hospital nurse who hopped off a bus. Police later captured Baker, who is now serving a life prison sentence.

But wracked by guilt and lament, Granlund did not sleep for a week, fell into a state of depression and lost 8 pounds. No charges were filed against him.

Rosario left out two small, but vital, points here:

First: When Granlund fired, Baker was taking aim at a woman who was standing, apparently shocked, on the steps of a nearby apartment. The shots diverted Baker's attention from what could have been a third murder.

Second: I interviewed Granlund, a few months after the shooting; as he related the story to me, it was more than just a generalized fear of prosecution, as Rosario related it; he was in fact specifically afraid that the Ramsey County Attorney's office would prosecute him for "taking the law into his own hands" and shooting Baker. The County Attorney - Tom Foley at the time - had a long history of ferocious prosecution of citizens who tried to defend themselves with firearms.

And in fact the County Attorney's office ran an active, aggressive, and according to Granlund angry and arrogant investigation, digging up everything they could to try to pin an indictment of some kind on Granlund...

...until the police stepped in:

In fact, he received a commendation from the Police Department. And if he thought deep down that many officers held anything against him, he was wrong..."
In fact, while the County Attorney was carrying out its investigation, policemen started visiting Granlund, expressing their gratitude; one lieutenant left him his force tie pin as a token of gratitude, a gesture that Granlund appreciated deeply when we spoke. In fact, according to Granlund at the time, it was the actions of then-chief Bill Finney that finally called the County Attorney's dogs off; Finney declared that Granlund was a hero, and that the CA's office would get no help trying to railroad the man from the Department.

One reason? The man knew what he was doing. I mentioned above - the guy was an expert marksman. When the police interviewed him about his shooting, Granlund told them that he intended to scare Baker and mark the car. He then proceeded to tell the investigators exactly where in the vehicle they'd find his bullets. And he was correct. Remember - he was firing under stress at a moving vehicle, with a pistol, at a range of around 100 yards - and yet he placed his three shots (all he had time to load) exactly on target, putting two bullets into the dashboard and one through the back window (which, indeed, helped the police find Baker later in the day). This was clearly no reckless act.

Granlund told me at the time that he had no doubt he could have killed Baker. And yet it was the fear of retribution from a County Attorney's office that was as bent on suppressing the citizen's right to self-defense as it was to put away a murderer that diverted Granlund's fire from Baker's head to his dashboard.

That realization haunted Granlund the rest of his life:

"They were and have been just phenomenal,'' says [Granlund's son] Erik, who added that a steady line of cops from across the city stopped by his father's home in the first few weeks after the slayings to shake his hand and thank him for what he did.

"Lyle was a gentle, soft-spoken man with a gentle demeanor,'' says Renteria, who over the years visited Granlund and tried to repeatedly assure him that his actions were understandable. "Lyle's life had changed after that terrible day and seen what most of the officers will never witness the death of a young police officer."

Remember Lyle Granlund and his deeds - the life he saved, the life he tried in vain to save - when Wes "Lying Sack of Filth" Skoglund and Citizens for a Supine "Safer" Minnesota repeat their bilge about the dangers of the law-abiding gun owner.

Remember Lyle Granlund and the fear of institutional, ideological retribution that kept him from killing the man who went on to kill Officer Tim Jones.

And remember him when you remember Sgt. Vick and all the other SPPD officers who've fallen in the line of duty as the city absorbs this terrible event; they both emblemize a community that, for all its warts, basically works - where citizens respect their police, and the police regard the citizens with less of the "us vs. them" attitude that so taints police-community relations elsewhere.

For all its warts, they all make me glad I live in Saint Paul.

Posted by Mitch at May 6, 2005 12:11 PM | TrackBack

I'm sure that it happens a lot more than we'll ever know. An armed citizen has a brief chance to stop a criminal, but worries, hesitates, and draws back, because he doesn't know if, in this firearm-phobic world, people will understand what he's doing.

Posted by: RBMN at May 6, 2005 03:49 PM

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