North Dakota police officers cleared in fatal shooting of teen last year

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — A North Dakota prosecutor has declined charges against three Bismarck police officers who were involved in the fatal shooting of a teenager last fall during a traffic stop.

Nicholas Bruington, 17, of Bismarck, was shot and killed Nov. 12, 2023, in a mall parking lot, where the traffic stop by police took place.

Bruington was “a suspect in a report of gunfire” in the area, and witnesses had identified him as the shooter, according to Burleigh County State's Attorney Julie Lawyer, who reviewed the case and announced her decision on Tuesday, finding the shooting justified.

Bruington, a passenger in the vehicle with his mother and brother, “did not immediately comply” with officers' commands to show his hands, but he did eventually put up his hands and get out of the vehicle, Lawyer said. But he “bent back into the vehicle and emerged with a firearm in his right hand,” she said. He began to run, at first toward the officer who was making the commands, she said.

Officers fired and began to pursue him, Lawyer said. They shot him twice and performed life-saving measures until he was taken to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He suffered gunshot wounds to the right upper back of his torso and his right hand, according to an autopsy Lawyer cited.

“By engaging in the prior shooting incident and grabbing his gun prior to his attempted escape, Bruington indicated he was likely to endanger officers or others or to inflict serious bodily injury unless he was apprehended immediately," Lawyer wrote in a Feb. 26 letter declining charges.

Bruington dropped the handgun after the first shots, she said. A bullet apparently broke the weapon into pieces.

The officers — Wade Nordick, Benjamin Friedt and Zach Halpin — were placed on administrative leave pending a probe by the North Dakota Bureau of Criminal Investigation. They returned to duty effective Jan. 2.

Videos released by police show Bruington exiting the vehicle with his hands up, appearing upset and shouting. He then pulls at his shirt or waistband, returns to the vehicle, appears with what police highlighted as a handgun and runs before four gunshots are heard. A video from a police vehicle shows the car following Bruington as he ran, driving up on a sidewalk and back into the street before two final gunshots — of six total rounds — ring out.

Bruington's mother did not immediately respond to a Facebook message for comment.