'You have to win or you die': MPD officer Efrem Hamilton takes stand in own defense

Minneapolis police officer Efrem Hamilton, who is accused of shooting into a car full of people, took the stand in his own defense on Tuesday.

Hamilton said he was working off duty at a downtown bar that night in November 2016. He was in full uniform and gear when he heard reports of a fight with shots fired several blocks away outside the Pyramid Nightclub.

When asked why he rushed to the scene when he didn’t have to, Hamilton choked up. 

“I would not want to wake up the next morning with a police officer killed and have to live the rest of my life with that, knowing I could have helped,” he said.

Hamilton explained that as he rushed to the scene, he thought he was responding to an active shooter scene based on the MPD radio transmissions he was listening to.

When he pulled down 3rd Avenue North and spotted a gray vehicle reversing towards him, he concluded it was the initial shooting suspect.

Video shows Hamilton pulling his squad behind them, and he testified that the car appeared to be speeding up towards him. Then, the two vehicles collided.

Hamilton admitted he jumped out and fired one shot at the driver.

“I was going to be killed,” he told jurors, believing in the moment that the driver was armed.

Hamilton said he feared for his life.

“Retreat was not an option…you have to win or you die,” he said.

It turned out the driver was Caylea Wade and five friends who had nothing to do with the nightclub flight. Wade had been ordered by other officers to reverse away from the scene.

During a tense cross examination, prosecutors went on the offensive asking why he didn’t pause after the collision to assess the threat and why he didn’t order the occupants to put their hands up and exit the car before he shot.