What we know about the decision not to charge two MPD officers for killing Thurman Blevins. And where things go from here

Hennepin County Attorney
A still from NCAVF analyzed and stabilized body-worn camera video footage from Officer Justin Schmidt.

On Monday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said he’s not filing criminal charges against the Minneapolis police officers who shot and killed Thurman Blevins last month. Here’s what he said went into the decision, how others reacted to it, and what happens next in the latest case to capture national attention for police use of force.

How did we get here?
On June 23, someone in Minneapolis’ Camden neighborhood called 911 to report a man firing a handgun and pacing around. Officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt, who were patrolling nearby, went to investigate. They spotted Blevins sitting on a street corner with a gun in his waistband from their squad car, according to footage from the officers’ body-worn cameras. Prosecutors said he matched the caller’s description.

After the officers parked, Blevins jumped up and sprinted away — beginning a roughly 40-second foot chase down a sidewalk and alley, during which the officers yelled at Blevins to surrender. Blevins shouted back: “I didn’t do nothing, bro!” and “Please don’t shoot me,” according to the footage. Both officers opened fire after investigators said Blevins drew his gun. Blevins used his gun, too, according to investigators, though it’s unclear who fired first.

The shooting deepened already-fraught divisions between police and residents of north Minneapolis — and beyond — who say Blevins’ death is yet another in a series of senseless killings of black men by white cops. Less than 24 hours after the killing, a group of demonstrators organized a protest at the annual Twin Cities Pride parade, while Blevins’ family and friends paid tribute at a makeshift memorial in the alley where the 31-year-old died. Multiple protests decrying police brutality came in the weeks to follow.

The public’s demands for police accountability pushed City Council Member Cam Gordon, who represents neighborhoods near the University of Minnesota, to propose giving the 13-member City Council more authority over the police department. Right now, the mayor has direct oversight. The City Council OK’d the idea for more discussion on July 20.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman

Meanwhile, Mayor Jacob Frey made promises to give the public a better look into how authorities investigate such shootings, and he released the body-cam footage Sunday evening.

On Monday morning, Freeman addressed reporters inside the Hennepin County government building. His speech lasted just minutes before a small group of Blevins’ relatives and allies shut it down. Their demands included the officers’ arrest and fairer treatment from media. The county attorney later announced his decision to not charge the officers in a prepared statement, now available on his website.

What’s Freeman’s rationale for not charging the officers?
Under Minnesota law, it’s legal for police to use deadly force against someone if investigators find that person was threatening the lives of officers or others.

To file charges for second-degree manslaughter — which were brought against the cops who fatally shot Philando Castile and Justine Ruszczyk Damond, among other crimes — prosecutors must feel they can prove what’s called “culpable negligence,” a phrase that can cover any number of actions showing extreme carelessness or recklessness. The officer in Castile’s case was acquitted of all charges.

Thurman Blevins
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Thurman Blevins

That means the circumstances leading up to Blevins’ death — he ran with a loaded handgun, disobeyed officers’ commands and held the weapon when he turned toward them — made the officers’ deadly reaction legal, according to prosecutors.

Freeman came to the decision without using a grand jury and after reviewing the investigation by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which included testimonies from police and witnesses, the body-cam footage and other forensic evidence. “Mr. Blevins represented a danger to the lives of officer Schmidt and officer Kelly and members of the community,” the statement says.

The Minneapolis Police Department posts its specific policies for when officers can use force, per their training, on its website.

How did other officials respond to Freeman’s decision?
Local and state elected leaders flooded social media Monday with reactions to the body-camera video and Freeman’s decision.

Among them was state Rep. Ilhan Omar, who is running for Congress in the Fifth Congressional District and called for complex solutions that “get at the root causes of crime.” City Council Member Alondra Cano, who chairs the Public Safety Committee, expressed her condolences to Blevins’ family and said Police Chief Medaria Arradondo has limited ability to comment until a unit within his department wraps up its own investigation into Blevins’ shooting. The mayor declined to address the actions of Blevins or the officers, the Star Tribune reported.

Police union President Lt. Bob Kroll
MinnPost photo by Ibrahim Hirsi
Police union President Lt. Bob Kroll

Police union President Lt. Bob Kroll, meanwhile, didn’t hold back with backing the actions of Kelly and Schmidt. He said they had no choice but to shoot and expressed disappointment with anyone who didn’t support them. “When [Blevins] comes around with that gun in his hand, the whole time he’s looking back getting position of where the officers are to acquire a target to shoot them,” he told the Star Tribune. “At that point, he’s fair game. He had not complied, he’s armed with a gun, he’s already discharged that gun.”

How many people have police officers killed nationwide in 2018?
Blevins is one of 584 people across the country who have died at the hands of police so far this year, according to a tally by the Washington Post. Five were in Minnesota, compared to zero in Nebraska and upwards of 60 in California and Texas.

Damond was one of 987 people shot and killed by police in 2017, the Post reported. Mental illness was a factor in a quarter of those killings, according to the paper.

What happens now?
Officers Kelly and Schmidt will remain on paid administrative leave until the police department’s review of the shooting ends. That could determine if, or to what extent, they remain in the same positions or employed with the department.

As for Gordon’s measure to change oversight of the agency, city committees will consider the idea again Wednesday with a chance for the public to comment. The council member didn’t respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Comments (26)

  1. Submitted by Sarah Tittle on 07/31/2018 - 11:15 am.

    watch the video

    I strongly urge everyone who is commenting to watch the video first. Not sure why police are trained to utter incendiary epithets upon approach. What would have happened had they not arrived on the scene in escalation mode?

    • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 07/31/2018 - 12:03 pm.

      Not rocket science

      Because he had a gun an had already fired it. That changes everything. When someone is killed without a weapon it’s a different dialogue.

      • Submitted by Patrick Steele on 07/31/2018 - 12:57 pm.

        Allegedly. Could have just as easily been a case of swatting.

        • Submitted by Mark Kulda on 07/31/2018 - 05:36 pm.

          If it was swatting, why did he run?

          If it was truly swatting, what would Blevins reaction have been? One would think he would have been surprised and just sat there talking to the yelling officers. Instead he immediately bolted and didn’t even take the time to drop his drink initially.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/01/2018 - 11:47 am.

          Swatting

          This is not a guy using the bathroom at Starbucks or using a swimming pool. The call to the police was not about trespassing. It was about a guy firing a handgun. So even with the possibiliy it was swatting, the police have to handle the call seriously.

          And it turns out the did have a gun (illegally) and a prior felony conviction for illegal gun possession.

    • Submitted by Andrew Andrusko on 08/01/2018 - 08:16 am.

      It is entirely possible that Blevins girlfriend, his child, the police or some innocent bystander may have hit by his random gun fire. Police officers are people too, and they experience fear just like any rational person under the specter of being imminently murdered while doing their job.I don’t think it’s unreasonable for them to lose some level of decorum or swear particularly in light of the fact that Blevins decided to disobey their commands, run, and shoot at them first. It was very clearly a high stress situation brought on by a series of Blevin’s bad decisions.

  2. Submitted by John Fredell on 07/31/2018 - 02:29 pm.

    Police shootings

    Why is it that so often the person who is described as “a threat” is shot in the back?

    • Submitted by Tom Anderson on 07/31/2018 - 11:15 pm.

      Please name 5 incidents

      Shouldn’t be too hard since it happens often.

      • Submitted by richard owens on 08/02/2018 - 11:48 am.

        Walter Scott and a few more on video

        It is way too common.

        I suggest you Google the phrase, “police shoot man in the back video”.

        You’ll see incidents in San Fran, Sacramento, Portsmouth, and Chicago PDs just in the first page of hits.

        These are all Black men, but I didn’t use that search term.

    • Submitted by Richard Callahan on 08/07/2018 - 11:37 am.

      If you watch the video, you’ll see that Blevins was in the process of turning around toward with police with his gun out – presumably to fire. Of course the police could have waited for Blevins to completely turn, but then the cop may be dead.

      I was taught as a boy that the police would shoot you if you were running from them and not stopping when ordered. And that was in a small rural Minnesota town. It is very easy not to run away.

  3. Submitted by joseph olson on 07/31/2018 - 03:55 pm.

    Watch the video. Read Minn. Stat. sec. 609.066. It was proper police action
    Initially to protect the public and, after Blevins drew his gun, to protect themselves.

  4. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 07/31/2018 - 11:22 pm.

    From here

    When fathers have “the talk” with their sons, perhaps they should say “don’t run from the police, don’t say that you don’t have a weapon when you do, if you are a felon don’t carry a gun, when the police ask you to do something please do it and cooperate”.

    And where are the names of all the witnesses who said that Mr. Blevins did not have a gun?

    I am amazed at all the citizens who have stepped up to say that Mr. Blevins had every right to “open carry” especially with a child nearby and in spite of the fact that as a felon I believe that he had forfeited that right..

  5. Submitted by Eric House on 08/01/2018 - 10:05 am.

    Rorschach Test

    This incident has really struck me as a Rorschach test of people’s beliefs. For those who tend to stick with the cops it is an easy sell- accused shooter, and obviously armed from the time the police arrived. Clearly a danger to the public and the police and so this was a “good” kill.

    For those who are skeptical of the police there is plenty that is worrying also: the cops come in screaming and swearing- escalating the situation, Mr. Blevins was running away and so obviously was not a threat, and of course pointing out the hypocrisy of our second amendment lovers- openly carrying a gun isn’t supposed to make a person a threat, yet somehow when it is a black man who gets killed, the NRA is awfully quiet.

    There is plenty of nuance here. As for me, I would fall on the side of the skeptics. As with the kids in Minnehaha Park it sure seems that MPD came onto the scene carrying a lot of assumptions, and rather than taking a moment to assess what was going on, they acted immediately on those assumptions, and now we have another dead body.

    • Submitted by ian wade on 08/01/2018 - 01:30 pm.

      Look…

      the guy was walking around drunk and shooting a firearm.in the middle of a neighborhood. He’s also had convictions for fleeing a police officer, 4th degree assault for kicking and spitting a police officer and felony possession of a firearm. I’m as liberal as they come, but this is far from a Philando Castille situation.
      As far as police escalation, how exactly do you think they should have approached a suspect that was drunk and shooting indiscriminately? There’s one reason that Mr. Blevins is dead…and it’s Mr. Blevins. It’s tragic that another person has died at the hands of police, but at some point, one needs to be responsible for the choices they make. This wasn’t “good kill.” It was a tragedy that could have been avoided by raising hands when the police rolled up.

    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/01/2018 - 08:41 pm.

      Nonsense

      The idea that he was “obviously not a threat” is delusional. Police were called because this guy was shooting his gun on the street. That was a very serious threat. And the fact that he ran away doesn’t change that. The police could not simply let him go, and risk that he might actually shoot someone.

      I expect the 2nd Amendment crowd is not speaking up because Blevins is a convicted felon who is prohibited from having a gun. Had he not been killed, he would have gone to prison for having it. He was also drinking at the time. There are plenty of reasons for the NRA keep quiet outside of his race. That argument simply has no merit.

      The kids in Minnehaha park were innocent kids. This guy was a criminal with a felony firearms conviction who was drinking and shooting a gun on the street. Its two completely different situations.

      • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/02/2018 - 08:28 am.

        Everyone keeps talking about this guy

        as if the police knew going in that he was a convicted felon, etc. etc.

        The police did not know this, but went in to the situation with seemingly no plan for de-escalation.

        As we’ve seen in the past, white men brandishing guns (again, police have no knowledge of the man’s background) are treated differently.

        • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/02/2018 - 09:54 am.

          Wrong

          People are not saying that. I have explicitly stated here that the cops did not know he was a convicted felon when the call came. What the police did know was that there was a report of a man walking around shooting a gun. And I’m not sure why you are comparing people simply brandishing guns. You need to compare people shooting guns on city streets when complaining about de-escalation.

          The criminal record is relevant because the police got it right. Blevins was a dangerous criminal with a long felony record who was committing multiple additional gun-related felonies and putting people’s lives in danger.

          • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/02/2018 - 10:08 am.

            Finding out after the fact

            that a person you killed has a criminal past is a perfect example of 20/20 hindsight.

            He must have forgotten to show his yellow ticket of leave. What was his prisoner number?

            What was the person doing in that moment? That is what we should all be concerned with. The people around Blevins did not appear to be fearing for their lives.

            • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/02/2018 - 10:59 am.

              Nope

              Again, as I have stated, the criminal record is only relevant in that the cops got this right. They intervened where a convicted felon was comitting multiple additional felonies.

              The fact he was discharging a gun on the street was the basis for their stop. And they say him with a gun and a bottle of liquor. The people may not have looked scared, but a man drinking and shooting his gun in the street was a danger to them and others.

              • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/02/2018 - 01:23 pm.

                I’ll trust that those friends and family knew him better

                than the police officers. Men drinking and shooting guns is a common occurrence outside the metro. I’ve seen it with my own eyes.

                As for “getting it right”, that is in the eye of the beholder, isn’t it? Instead of proceeding with caution, they went in with belligerence.

                Again, we’ve seen many videos over the years in which police officers just do not approach white men in the same manner.

                • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/02/2018 - 02:33 pm.

                  Who knows better

                  I’ll trust that the police officers recognized that this was a dangerous criminal and had a better understanding of the risk of a guy with a gun and a bottle of liquor than his friends and family. That risk, of course, extends to anyone who might get shot by this guy, not just friends and family.

                  And yes, we have indeed seen videos where police acted inappropriately. This just isn’t one of them. Don’t distort the facts to try and make this case fit your narrative.

                  • Submitted by Joel Fischer on 08/02/2018 - 04:50 pm.

                    I don’t have a narrative

                    I just want the police to treat everyone in the same manner.

                    Why don’t you?

                    • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/07/2018 - 04:21 pm.

                      Because that’s insane

                      I want police to approach each situation with the appropriate reaponse. A complaint about kids causing trouble in a park should be handled differently from a call about an active shooter. When people’s lives are in real danger, the police should act accordingly.

  6. Submitted by Alan Straka on 08/01/2018 - 04:26 pm.

    Please consider the facts

    Whenever a person of color is killed by a police officer there is a group of people who refuse to consider the facts (an unbiased look at this case would have to conclude that the shooting was justifiable) and automatically blame the police. It is equally sad that when the police do screw up, as in the Philando Castille case, it is so difficult to hold them accountable. Proper accountability on both sides would allow us all to evaluate each incident rationally rather than basing our reactions solely on preconceived notions.

    • Submitted by Eric House on 08/02/2018 - 07:36 am.

      Also true: Whenever a person of color is killed by a police office there is a group of people who refuse to consider the facts and automatically defend the police. for example: Here on this form there are people defending the police by saying that Mr. Blevins had a criminal record, and implying that therefore it was OK to shoot and kill him. Elsewhere there are plenty of people saying that Mr. Blevins was in possession of a firearm, and therefore it was OK to shoot and kill him regardless of what he was doing in the moment.

      We will never be able to have accountability for our police forces if we do not look honestly at the case and ask some hard questions: Why did the officers feel the need to come in screaming obscenities? In a world where we know that 911 callers are often inaccurate, and sometimes intentionally so, who do our police take that information as gospel truth? Why is it ever OK to shoot someone in the back? Why does it feel that officers are able to calmly and fairly interact with the public, except when they are black males?

      Maybe our police had no other options. Maybe they acted according to current procedure. But if we reflectively say “an unbiased look at this case would have to conclude that the shooting was justifiable,” then as a society we are not doing our due diligence to improve our police force.

      • Submitted by Pat Terry on 08/02/2018 - 08:38 am.

        Disingenuous

        Its not that he possessed a gun. Its that he possessed a gun illegally and the police were called because he was firing it in the street.

        Again, this is not a guy at Starbucks or kids using a pool. This was a guy drinking and firing a gun. This was a legitimately dangerous situation.

        The criminal record (which the cops were unaware of when they got the call) is relevant because the cops and the 911 caller did get it right. It wasn’t swatting or an inaccurate call. This was a convicted felon with a prior illegal firearms conviction, who was breaking the law and putting people in danger.

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