Lawsuit: Carlton County Sheriff's deputy drank beer before shooting, paralyzing unarmed man

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A sheriff's deputy in northern Minnesota is accused of drinking beer hours before he shot an unarmed man last year, leaving the man paralyzed, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday.

The officer-involved shooting happened in July 2019 in Moose Lake, as law enforcement officials served an arrested warrant on 34-year-old Shawn Olthoff.

The lawsuit argues Carlton County Sheriff's Deputy Jason Warnygora used unauthorized deadly force against Olthoff during the arrest when he led the tactical response into the mobile home where Olthoff was sleeping.

The complaint states Olthoff's "hands were empty" and that he "had no weapon" when officers entered.

Warnygora fired two shots at the suspect, according to the shooting investigation. The lawsuit states the deputy was the only law enforcement officer at the scene who fired his weapon.

In statements made to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, another officer at the scene told investigators he was taken back by the shot when it was fired, saying he didn't see Olthoff with any weapons.

"I didn't see a gun, I didn't see anything," the officer's statement reads. "Then I remember hearing a second shot, 'boom.' So it was 'boom, boom.'"

Hours after the shooting, according to the complaint, Warnygora told a BCA special agent "that he had consumed two beers earlier that day" and that he knew "he might be called to go on a CERT raid," the lawsuit states.

"This is one of the two worst examples of police conduct I've seen in 44 years," said attorney Robert Bennett, who represents Olthoff. "I've never seen someone admit to using alcohol before shooting someone."

In a response to the lawsuit, an attorney representing Carlton County released a statement explaining that Olthoff was wanted for assaulting a peace officer at the time of the warrant.

"The entry involved a high level of danger and risk to the officers," the statement reads in part. "Sgt. Warnygora fired in response to a reasonable belief that Mr. Olthoff was armed and threatening the officers with great bodily harm or death."

Olthoff, 34, is now paralyzed from the chest down.

"He has no use of his legs at all and, as far as we know, will never have any use," Bennett said.