Two New Hope Police officers and their spouses filed a civil lawsuit March 7 against a Princeton gun shop owner, for allegedly and negligently selling the gun used by Raymond Kmetz in the January 2015 shooting at New Hope City Hall.
According to the law firm of Robins Kaplan, the legal council for New Police Officer Joshua Eernisse and former New Hope Police Officer Beau Schoenhard, it is the first lawsuit in the state against a gun shop involving a straw purchase that resulted in injury.
The lawsuit was filed against Troy Buchholz and Every Day Shipping Solutions, Inc., doing business as Full Metal Gun Shop.
During a press conference announcing the filing of the suit, Eernisse, Schoenhard and their attorneys spoke about the case. Both officers fought back tears as they addressed the incident.
“What this case is about and what it ultimately boils down to is responsibility and accountability,” said Philip Sieff, a Robins Kaplan attorney. “It is about enforcing the laws that are already on the books, which are intended to keep firearms out of the hands of people the law clearly says are not allowed to have them.”
The lawsuit stated that the defendants “knew or had reason to know that the actual purchaser of the firearms was Raymond Kmetz, a dangerous, mentally ill person who was legally prohibited from purchasing guns.”
“We hope to make clear through victories in this case that gun dealers in Minnesota are responsible if they negligently or illegally sell guns that supply criminals or other dangerous people with them and innocent people are harmed as a result,” said Brendan Kelly, of Brady Center. “Additionally, cases like this can send a message to dealers across the country that they’ve got to clean up their act.”
Kmetz was known to New Hope staff and officials prior to the incident. According to the lawsuit, he had a history of criminal charges with New Hope police and four other police departments including a 2009 felony for fourth-degree assault on a police officer.
According to a 2012 civil commitment filing in Hennepin County District Court, Kmetz was involuntarily institutionalized and was noted as being delusional, paranoid, psychotic and a danger to society. That commitment made it illegal under state and federal law for Kmetz to own a firearm.
On Aug. 21, 2014, Kmetz purchased three firearms online. The firearms were transferred to Full Metal Gun Shop with Kmetz’s name and contact information.
According to the lawsuit, Buchholz made several failed attempts to call Kmetz Aug. 23, 2014. However, Michael Garant arrived at the gun shop later that day to pick up the three guns and claimed to be the “actual buyer” of the guns, the lawsuit states.
Buchholz submitted Garant’s name to a federally required Brady background check but not Kmetz’s name, according to the lawsuit. After passing the background check, Garant left with the firearms and transfered them to Kmetz.
Garant was charged in U.S. District Court for acting as a straw purchaser of the guns. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in October 2015 to 12 months in prison and two years of supervised release.
Kmetz used one of the three guns on Jan. 26, 2015, when he entered New Hope City Hall, raised a semi-automatic shotgun at a crowd of police officers, families and residents who had gathered outside the council chambers after a swearing in ceremony.
Schoenhard, dressed in civilian clothing, saw Kmetz with the gun and lunged, knocking the muzzle upward as Kmetz fired the weapon.
“I didn’t think. I didn’t have to think,” Schoenhard said. “I went after him and the gun.”
Eernisse was struck in the shoulder with more than 50 pellets and fragments from the shot.
Schoenhard was struggling with Kmetz when a fellow officer returned fire, killing Kmetz instantly, but also striking Schoenhard’s arm, shattering his forearm and wrist.
Eernisse had surgery to remove as many fragments as possible, but still has approximately 35 pieces lodged in his body.
“… A constant reminder of what happens when there’s an illegal and improper sale of arms,” said Chris Messerly, a Robins Kaplan attorney.
Eernisse credits Schoenhard, Officer Erick Dyer and Captain Scott Crocker for saving his life.
“I’m incredibly grateful that I am here today,” he said.
Schoenhard endured four surgeries and 75 physical therapy sessions to repair his arm and wrist.
“I think about this injury every day,” Schoenhard said. “It hurts every day. I look at it every day. It’s something my family and I have to deal with every day.”
Schoenhard now works for the Edina Police Department.
“It’s not easy,” he said about coping with the trauma of the shooting. “It changes you.”
“The ‘come home safes,’ the ‘I love yous,’ when you leave for an overnight shift, they have a different meaning,” he said. “It has just added a sense of realism as to how dangerous this job can be.”
According to Kelly, approximately 90 percent of gun dealers are responsible.
“The crime gun problem in America is largely a bad apple gun dealer problem,” he said.
Kelly said approximately 5 percent of gun dealers in America sell approximately 90 percent of the guns used in crimes throughout the nation.
“It’s those irresponsible actors who put profits over people that lawsuits like this aim to hold accountable and take the profit out of supplying the criminal gun market,” he said.
Sieff said Robins Kaplan looks forward to proving that the shooting could have been prevented. The law firm and Brady Center are representing the officers on a pro bono basis.
“The survivors and their families have chosen to courageously stand up against the negligent gun dealer to ensure that other families don’t have to endure the physical and emotional repercussions they have withstood,” Sieff said.
Contact Gina Purcell at [email protected]