MINNEAPOLIS – Two Minneapolis police officers who shot and killed a black man were justified in using deadly force, a prosecutor announced Monday, saying the man was fleeing police and had turned toward them with a loaded gun before he was shot.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Thurman Blevins had refused commands to stop and show his hands, and was clearly a danger to the officers and community.
“The decision to use deadly force against Mr. Blevins under those circumstances was authorized,” Freeman said.
Freeman’s decision came after the city released the officers’ body-camera video late Sunday night. The announcement came by news release after he was shouted down at a news conference by community members where he had planned to detail the case.
Officers Justin Schmidt and Ryan Kelly were responding to a 911 call of a man firing a gun into the air June 23 on the city’s north side. The video released Sunday shows them pulling their cruiser up and Blevins seated on a curb near a woman with a child in a stroller. As the officers pull up, one says, “He’s got a gun!” Blevins jumps up and runs, as the officers yell, “Stop, stop! Put your hands up! I will (expletive) shoot you!”
In a chase that takes less than a minute, Blevins yells back, “I didn’t do nothing bro,” `’Please don’t shoot” and “Leave me alone.” An enhanced version of the video has a red circle drawn around Blevins’ hand to highlight what appears to be a gun.
After the chase turns down an alley, Blevins is shot, still running.
At Freeman’s aborted news conference, Jeniffer Rohr, a friend of the Blevins family, criticized the officer heard saying “He’s got a gun” as their squad car rolled up to Blevins.
“He just gave himself a license to shoot Mr. Blevins,” Rohr said. She said Blevins was “assassinated.”
Lt. Bob Kroll, the head of the police union, said the footage proved the two officers acted justifiably.
“The officers deserve the Minneapolis Police Department’s highest award – the Medal of Honor – and the respect of the population it swore to protect,” Kroll said.
A protest of Blevins’ death was planned for Tuesday afternoon at the Hennepin County Government Center.
The shooting was investigated by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Kroll said that the video showed Blevins fired his gun during the chase, and Freeman’s reported cited a bullet casing from Blevins’ gun found near his body.
Freeman said the officers fired 14 shots and Blevins was hit four times.
Some witnesses had disputed Blevins was armed, saying he was carrying a bottle or a cup. The video showed a bottle in Blevins’ hand.
Blevins’ death prompted earlier demonstrations and community advocates demanded transparency and urged the swift release of body camera footage. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said it would be released after the Blevins family was consulted and the BCA had finished interviewing key witnesses.
Frey said Blevins’ family viewed the video about an hour before it was released publicly. He called Blevins’ death “tragic,” but declined to comment on what the footage showed.
“I know that right now in our city there’s a lot of pain,” he said. “Pain in many cases that I cannot understand.”
Blevins’ relatives previously called for both officers to face criminal charges .
The city released raw footage from both officers’ cameras, as well as what it called a “stabilized” video that includes footage from both officers produced by the National Center for Audio and Video Forensics in Beverly Hills, California. Officials said that footage had gone through a process to identify pixels from each frame and aligned them to help limit shaking.
Kelly has been with the police department since 2013 and Schmidt joined in 2014. Both had served in the military and had been recognized numerous times for their work as police officers, according to redacted personnel files. They also both have had complaints against them. Kelly has had five complaints, all closed without discipline, while Schmidt has had three complaints against him, including two that were closed without discipline and one that remains open. Details about the complaints were not released.
Minneapolis has been rocked by two high-profile fatal police shootings in recent years, including the November 2015 shooting of Jamar Clark, 24, and last year’s shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, 40. Officers in the Clark case were not charged. Trial is pending for the officer who shot Damond.
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