Two minutes and 42 seconds. That is the time from when a Rochester police officer grabbed 39-year-old Albert Dashow to the moment when an officer uttered the words, “He’s out, he’s out, he’s out.”
That 2 minutes and 42 seconds has come under scrutiny since the date it happened, March 27, 2019. That night, after a traffic stop, Dashow, of Rochester, was taken to the ground by officers in the parking lot at Cub Foods in Southeast Rochester, and he never got back up. He died in their hands.
It was shortly before 9 p.m. on an unseasonably warm night for late March. What started as a routine stop took a turn when the driver, Dashow, drove away before the officer was finished with him, then parked a short distance later. The officer tried to arrest Dashow and a physical struggle ensued. Minutes later, it was over.
Warning: This video may be disturbing to some. Viewer discretion is advised.
The death has left unresolved questions in Rochester, increasingly raised in the aftermath of another killing at the hands of police, the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
But unlike the Floyd case, in which the initial police account of “medical incident” was later revealed to be the result of a prolonged, traumatic assault by an officer, the Rochester Police Department’s account has stood up to investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and a legal review from a nearby county attorney's office. Now the Post Bulletin has examined records and videos from the incident that were recently obtained under a public records request filed a year ago.
The videos, in particular, are revealing of the incident, the behavior of its participants, and its chronology. In it, one can hear Dashow appearing to talk for nearly two minutes after he is taken down, repeatedly telling officers to call his mother. It was her truck he had been driving.
And, just more than 30 seconds before officers realize something has gone wrong, Dashow is heard making a whimpering sound. It is the last sound he would ever make.
The whole interaction, from the initial traffic stop to the moment officers began performing CPR, took less than 10 minutes. Officers performed CPR for more than six minutes as an AED (automated external defibrillator) repeatedly told them not to administer a shock.
The Southern Minnesota Regional Medical Examiner’s Office ruled Dashow’s death a homicide. The ruling simply means someone died at the hands of another. The report further said that the medical cause of Dashow's death was “cardiac hypertrophy and physiologic stress associated with restraint by law enforcement.”
Six officers, all members of the Rochester Police Department, were placed on paid leave following the incident, but all had returned to work by mid-April. The officers were identified by the BCA as Wade Blazejak, David Dezell, Matthew Loken, John Mitchell, Jason Weseley and Collin Winters.
Records request filled
The PB filed a public records request with the BCA on June 12, 2019, seeking the incident reports, squad camera footage and body camera footage from the traffic stop. Such records are public data under Minnesota state statutes. The PB's request had originally been filed with the RPD, which referred the reporter to the BCA.
The PB filed its request six days after the Winona County Attorney’s Office, brought in to handle the case to avoid potential conflicts of interest, decided not to press charges against the officers involved.
“The evidence indicates that Mr. Dashow’s tragic death appears to have resulted from Mr. Dashow’s medical conditions in combination with the stress of the incident,” Winona County Attorney Karin Sonneman wrote in June 2019. “The various video and audio recordings of the incident demonstrate that law enforcement personnel acted in a manner consistent with the response necessary and appropriate under the circumstances of the incident and did not use excessive force toward Mr. Dashow.”
After a year, the BCA fulfilled the Post Bulletin’s request. Now, using more than a dozen videos taken from the officers’ body cameras and squads and 333 pages of reports, the Post Bulletin was able to piece together a timeline of what happened in the moments leading up to and following Dashow's death.
Dashow’s last day
In an interview with a BCA special investigator in the weeks following her son's death, Dashow's mother said that on March 27, Albert Dashow left their house between 5 and 6 a.m. He usually walked to the Rochester YMCA every day. In addition, that day he had a tax appointment at 10:30 a.m. at the Salvation Army building.
It was common for Dashow to leave in the morning, and he would keep in touch with his mother on his cellphone. But on March 27, his phone was broken. She expected him home at the usual time, around 8 p.m.
But he didn't come home. Early in the evening, she took the dog outside. She saw the truck parked there, and figured Albert would be home soon.
But she became "uneasy," the report says, when Albert still had not arrived home by 10 p.m. That's when she looked outside and saw the truck was now gone.
She fell asleep, waking at 1 a.m. to find that Albert still was not home. She called the police department's emergency line to report him missing. Not long after, officers came to her home.
Dashow's mother said she was sure that Albert became “scared” during the encounter. He might have been disoriented. He had always been a law-abiding person, she said.
Dashow’s brother told an investigator about his brother's mental health struggles. Despite those, he had always been respectful toward law enforcement before.
"Losing Al has been incredibly tough on our family," a family member told the Post Bulletin. "We continue to grieve his loss everyday. Al was an incredibly kind and gentle soul that always put others first. He is missed dearly."
The family member said the family appreciates "all the thoughts, prayers and support that have come out from the community."
Why the stop?
In the immediate aftermath of the fatal incident, police did not release the purpose for the traffic stop. The records obtained by the Post Bulletin show that in an interview with investigators about a week after the incident, Officer Dezell said he had seen Dashow’s truck make an illegal lane change, and brake and maneuver erratically on the streets near Cub.
Dash camera footage from Dezell’s squad car shows Dashow pulling in front of Dezell’s vehicle, which had already moved into the left turn lane. Dezell said he was northbound on Marion Road, approaching 12th Street, and in the far left turn lane when he noticed a blue truck turn its blinker on and then jerk over sharply, causing him to tap his brakes, according to a transcript of Dezell's interview with the BCA.
While the two vehicles were turning, the truck again turned on its blinker to make a left and “sharply jerked again into the turn lane turning into the main entrance to Cub Foods,” Dezell said. At that point, Dezell said, the truck had made an improper lane change, so he decided to make the stop, near the parking lot entrance.
Dezell said he activated his lights and Dashow’s vehicle came to a sudden stop, blocking traffic, then continued. Dezell finally had to use his air horn to get the truck to stop in front of Planet Fitness, a business adjoining Cub in the shopping center.
The video record
In Dezell's body camera footage, the first person to speak is Dashow.
“What’s going on? I’m just going to park my car and get my milk,” Dashow says, placing his hands flat on the steering wheel as the officer approaches his vehicle.
“I think you’re driving is what’s wrong,” Dezell says.
Dashow says he had just gotten gas and was heading home, just stopping to get some milk.
The officer responds that Dashow swerved twice, to which Dashow apologizes and puts his hands up.
“I mean, you’re not even looking to see where you are going,” Dezell says.
Dashow hands his driver's license to the officer, but isn't able to find insurance information in the truck. Dashow gets out of the truck and walks around to the passenger side to look more thoroughly. When approached again by the officer and ordered to get back in his vehicle, Dashow tells the officer to call his mother. It's her truck, he says. At one point he begins to recite her phone number. He tries to hand over a piece of paper he says has his mother's number written on it.
Dashow gets back in the driver's seat and starts to pull away. He turns right down a parking aisle, then left into a parking space. Dezell follows in his car, gets out, yanks open Dashow's door and orders him out of the truck. "Right now you are being detained because you’re driving away from a traffic stop,” the officer says on the video.
Dezell tells Dashow to put his hands on the truck and when he doesn't comply immediately, the officer tries to place Dashow there himself.
Dashow walks away from the officer, toward the grocery store, briefly jogs, then stops in a cart corral. He tells the officer he'll wait there as he leans against the railing with his feet crossed. By then, the second officer has arrived. That officer, Officer Blazejak, jumps over the railing into the cart corral on the far side from Dashow. He advances through the corral to grab Dashow by the shoulders, and starts to take him to the ground. While Dashow is held on the ground, an officer tells him he's under arrest for obstructing and fleeing police.
Taser displayed, but not used
Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin said in the days after Dashow’s death that a preliminary investigation concluded certain facts from the incident: Police didn't use a weapon, the chief said, although the BCA investigation found and the video shows that Dezell drew his Taser but didn't use it. RPD policies require that a subject present "immediate danger" to an officer or another person, and that lesser-force options be exhausted before the Taser may be used.
“The Taser may not be used against subjects who are passively resistant,” the policy states. “The Taser should not be used to gain compliance from an individual unless the subject presents an immediate danger to the officer or others, and the use of the Taser is likely to prevent or reduce risk of injury to the subject, officer(s) or another person, and lesser force options were ineffective or likely to be ineffective.”
“He, it was, it wasn't a sprint or a run, it was more like a, a jog, fast walk backwards away from me. Which is the reason I didn't deploy my Taser,” Dezell said according to the BCA interview transcript. “He wasn't physically assaultive towards me. He wasn't trying to come after me. He was more or less getting away. So, I didn't have the grounds to deploy my Taser. It wasn't at that level yet. It was just more if he did decide to come at me, I had something to defend myself with.”
Dezell put his Taser away after Officer Blazejak arrived and brought Dashow to his knees. In the video, Dezell and Blazejak are seen struggling to bring down Dashow, who is described in reports as 5-foot-9, 220 pounds.
Even as the officers get Dashow on his stomach, video shows Dashow lifting his chest off the ground and officers struggling to get him into handcuffs. He appears to be reaching for his pockets and still has the slip of paper with his mother's telephone number in one of his hands.
Police used two sets of handcuffs, one cuffed to the other to extend the restraint, to handcuff Dashow as more officers arrived. At least one asked if there was a “psych” issue.
In the BCA interview, Dezell told the agent that Dashow seemed “to be very hot and sweaty,” and when he grabbed Dashow’s arm, “it felt like he was wearing multiple layers of clothes,” but Dezell could still feel sweat through the layers.
In the video, at least one officer mentions that Dashow may be choking on his own vomit, but it is unclear from reports and video if that is actually the case. The full autopsy report is not available to the public.
Officers also briefly discussed giving Dashow Narcan, the opioid overdose reversal drug. They looked in the truck through the windows and didn’t find any obvious signs that he'd ingested anything. Dashow’s mother would later tell police her son didn’t drink or do drugs.
Dashow had been under psychiatric care until March 18, 2019, according to case records. During that hospitalization, he had been found unresponsive and was placed in the ICU. When the hospital wanted to discharge Dashow, his mother disagreed and felt he needed to stay in the hospital.
The family member who spoke with the PB said that at the time of the stop, Dashow was struggling with mental health issues. Those struggles “definitely impacted his behavior that evening when he was pulled over and as he interacted with police,” the family member said.
“Of course we wish for a different outcome, one that did not result in his death," the family member said. "The best outcome that night would have been to realize that he was in a state of crisis and bring him to a hospital for help.”
COMING TUESDAY: Rochester Police Chief Jim Franklin talks about the fatal stop, and an outside law enforcement expert weighs in.