The police officer involved in a fatal shooting in the parking lot of a gas station in northwest Austin last Thursday has been identified, along with the man who was killed.
The Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) reported that Officer Zachary Gast fired his weapon during an incident on December 23rd that resulted in the death of 38-year old Kokou Christopher Fiafonou of Austin.
The BCA stated that Fiafonou died of multiple gunshot wounds and a knife was found near his body. The fatal shooting was the conclusion of an incident that had started the previous afternoon when officers were first dispatched to the area of 7th Street and 8th Avenue Northwest for a report of a male, later identified as Fiafonou, walking in traffic and holding a machete. Austin Chief of Police Dave McKichan stated that an attempt to gain verbal compliance from Fiafonou was ineffective, and he was then followed into a residence. McKichan went on to state that as officers attempted to take Fiafonou into custody, several tasers were deployed, but were also ineffective. He then retreated further into an apartment in the 1200 block of 4th Avenue Northwest, and Chief McKichan stated that the Austin/Mower Special Incident Response, or SIRT Team with trained negotiators was called in after Fiafonou threatened to injure other people. The report went on to state that officers attempted to negotiate with Fiafonou to bring the situation to a peaceful resolution, and several times during the incident, Chief McKichan stated that officers used pepper spray and less-than-lethal foam impact munitions, which were also ineffective.
At approximately 6:00 p.m. on the evening of December 23rd, the police presence in the area was drawn down to uniformed officers posted in the area to continue to monitor the situation and ensure public safety. At approximately 9:30 p.m., Chief McKichan reported that Fiafonou exited the apartment complex and walked to the Kwik Trip gas station in the 1200 block of Oakland Avenue West, followed by the authorities. In the parking lot of the gas station, McKichan stated that Fiafonou, who was armed with a knife, confronted the officers on the scene, and at one point, Officer Gast discharged his firearm multiple times, striking Fiafonou. Officers on the scene rendered medical aid to Fiafonou and called for an ambulance, but Chief McKichan stated that he later died at the scene.
State investigators indicated that some of the incident was recorded by squad car video cameras, but the Austin Police Department does not use body cameras on its officers.
The BCA’s investigation into the incident is ongoing. The results will be submitted to the Mower County Attorney’s Office for review. Officer Gast, who has been with the department for two years, has been placed on standard administrative leave.