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.
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.
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, 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.