Protestors gathered Sunday afternoon at the Holiday gas station at 36th Street East and Cedar Avenue in south Minneapolis, where police fatally shot Dolal Idd. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Before Minneapolis police shot and killed Dolal Idd, law enforcement deployed a confidential informant in an attempt to buy a high-capacity handgun from him, according to a search warrant released Monday morning.

On Wednesday evening, officers with the Minneapolis Police Department’s Community Response Team surrounded the 23-year-old Somali American after he drove into a Holiday gas station on E. 36th Street and Cedar Avenue S. The police initially characterized the stop as part of a weapons investigation.

Police have alleged that Dolal fired first and have released a 27-second body-cam video from the incident.

But the release of the search warrant raised new criticism from activists and legal experts, who continued to question the circumstances of Dolal’s death, the use of an informant, and the conduct of officers in the late-night raid that followed on the family home.

Mary Moriarty, former chief Hennepin County Public Defender, questioned why police would set up a gun bust at a busy gas station. 

“That strikes me as being extremely dangerous,” Moriarty said. “Why would you ever do that in a place where the public is likely to be, and was? Because if you jump out of your car—as it appears they did—with guns drawn, the likelihood is that shots could be exchanged. And some person, some member of the public could be killed.”

The search warrant was requested by Brandon Johnson, a Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) officer with more than 15 years experience. According to the document, officers with the Minneapolis Police Department’s First Precinct Community Response Team were attempting to set up a bust in which officers would attempt to buy a “MAC‐10 high-capacity pistol” from Dolal. 

Authorities knew Dolal could not legally possess a gun: In 2018, he was convicted of illegally possessing and firing a gun in the basement of his family’s Eden Prairie home. At the time of his death, Dolal was completing a three-year probation for that incident. 

The warrant doesn’t make clear what happened leading up the confrontation at the gas station.  

In a press release Monday, the BCA said that based on their preliminary investigation, officers surrounded the car Dolal was driving as they moved in to arrest him. Dolal attempted to flee, striking several squad cars in the process. He then allegedly fired at the officers, three of whom returned fire. Dolal was fatally wounded and pronounced dead at the scene. 

The BCA said that its investigators recovered a handgun and a “MAC-10 assault-style handgun,” from the vehicle.

According to the warrant, the informant also told officers that Dolal “had additional firearms at his residence.” The BCA used this information in the warrant to establish probable cause to search Dolal’s family home in Eden Prairie for guns, ammunition, or other related materials. 

The warrant states that the car Dolal was driving during the shooting, a white Chevrolet Cobalt, belonged to a female passenger. This woman, who has not been named, told officers she was Dolal’s girlfriend, and knew him by the nickname “Bird.” 

(On social media, some commenters seem to have treated the girlfriend in the car and the confidential informant as the same person; the warrant refers to them as decidedly separate.) 

Johnson also points to one previously undisclosed issue: Files from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) indicate Dolal possessed a stolen 12-gauge shotgun related to a criminal case in 2018. 

Johnson, the BCA officer, specifically requests that the judge permit a “nighttime search,” citing the ongoing nature of the investigation. He points to the “likely,” presence of firearms, and “the potential for evidence to be moved” or destroyed when the family learned of Dolal’s death. 

Dolal’s father, Bayle Adod Gelle, said he learned of his son’s fatal shooting only at the very end of a roughly two-hour search at his home. Body-cam footage from the search, released Saturday, shows officers pointing guns at Bayle’s family and binding the arms of adults, while declining to provide a warrant.

Ultimately, the search turned up nothing, according to the document. 

The middle-of-the-night raid on Dolal Idd’s family home turned up nothing. Credit: Search Warrant, District Court, State of Minnesota

Legal expert questions procedure during alleged gun buy 

The new details in the search warrant failed to quell questions and concerns raised by activists and community members. 

Moriarty, who was the chief Hennepin County Public Defender from 2014 to 2020, cited issues with the way police conducted the investigation of Dolal Idd.

“It’s not the way I would expect a controlled buy to have been arranged or to happen,” she said. If police were trying to set up a gun purchase through an informant, Moriarty said, they would typically send in the informant with marked cash bills and a wire to record audio. Police would not make their presence known at the scene; they’d conduct the arrest later, after the gun purchase. 

If the police intended to catch Dolal on gun possession before a sale took place, why corner him at a gas station with a passenger in the car, she said.

“I don’t know why you would ever set that up in any kind of place as public as that,” she said. “It’s just too dangerous.”

Moriarty also criticized the police use of informants: that is, people who have made deals with police, often when they face potential criminal charges of their own. 

“Use of informants by police, I think, is extremely problematic,” Moriarty said. “It’s dependent on incentivizing a person who’s probably desperate to get rid of a case or who wants money. So they have every incentive to try to set up somebody else.”

Typically, Moriarty and other defense lawyers know the name of every witness in a criminal case. But they usually don’t know the identity of informants. “It’s just the cop’s word about this person being reliable,” she said. 

There have been occasions when a judge has had a concern about the credibility of an informant, and asked for more information privately; rather than disclose the informant’s identity and how they got their information, the county attorney’s office has sometimes dismissed the case altogether, Moriarty said.

In this case, the available facts may already call the informant’s credibility into question, Moriarty said. The informant claimed there were guns in the home. But the warrant confirms the family’s previous statement that police didn’t find anything in their middle-of-the-night raid.

‘Is this case based on a lie?’

Law enforcement authorities have now released body-cam footage from the Holiday station shooting, the nighttime search warrant raid, and the text of the warrant itself. 

But Jaylani Hussein, an advocate for the family and executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), called for all the evidence to be released. He asked any witnesses or anyone with information to come forward, and assured them of community support. So far, he said, the available information paints a troubling picture of the Minneapolis Police Department.

Executing a “sting operation” in a community setting was extremely dangerous, he said. “They risked the lives of so many people in that neighborhood and those who were patronizing the Holiday gas station as well,” he said.

What’s more, he said, the use of the informant—who appears to have been wrong about the presence of guns at Dolal’s family’s home—raises questions about the underpinnings of the case.

“It appears they relied heavily on an informant who clearly lied about this stash of weapons that this young man had…is this entire case based on a lie?” Jaylani said. 

“It’s very clear right now that what they did at the home of that family was absolutely unnecessary. It was unnecessary and it was based on a lie. And now that lie may also have killed this young man.”

Jared Goyette

Jared Goyette is a freelance reporter based in the Twin Cities. He is a plaintiff in an ACLU class action lawsuit against the City of Minneapolis, the state of Minnesota and the MPD.

Becky Z. Dernbach

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.