Others’ opinion: An uneasy end to police-shooting case

Published 7:59 am Thursday, August 2, 2018

Star Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey is right: The death of 31-year-old Thurman Blevins is a “traumatic” tragedy for a city already struggling with gun violence and frayed police-community relations.

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In the interest of transparency, Frey appropriately called for police bodycam video to be released on Sunday, about five weeks after the June 23 shooting. And on Monday, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that no charges would be filed against two Minneapolis police officers who fatally shot the 31-year-old Blevins, who was armed, during a foot chase. The officers, Justin Schmidt and Ryan Kelly, were placed on leave as is department policy following a fatality.

The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension — in record time compared with similar cases that took months to investigate — determined that the officers saw that Blevins had a handgun when they responded to a 911 call in the 4700 block of Bryant Ave. N. The 911 caller had reported that a man was shooting a gun, and Blevins fit the description the caller provided.

The combination of evidence — including body camera video from both officers, testimony from witnesses and forensic tests — confirmed that Blevins had a gun in his hand as he ran from police and that he refused multiple commands to stop and drop the weapon. Officers fired when he turned slightly while running with the gun in his hand.

In reaching his decision, Freeman cited Minnesota law. It states that officers may use deadly force to “protect the peace officer or another” from “death or great bodily harm” or “to effect the arrest or capture, or prevent the escape of someone whom the officer knows or had reasonable grounds to believe has committed or is attempting to commit a felony involving use of deadly force.”

“When Mr. Blevins fled from the officers with a loaded handgun, refused to follow their commands for him to stop and show his hands and then took the gun out of his pocket and turned toward the officers, Mr. Blevins represented a danger to the lives of Officer Schmidt and Officer Kelly,” Freeman’s statement read. “Their decision to use deadly force against Mr. Blevins under those circumstances was authorized [under the law].”

The Blevins family and many members of his north Minneapolis community are understandably shocked and frustrated that another black man has lost his life in a police-involved shooting, this time while running away from officers. It’s important to remember that the Black Lives Matter movement started for good reason — because a number of police-involved shootings of black men in America in recent years have involved police misconduct.

The 911 caller in the Blevins case reported that an intoxicated man carrying a gun had fired a shot into the air and one into the ground. It’s “just not safe around here,” the caller said, and Schmidt and Kelly responded. Schmidt, who was closer to Blevins during the chase down an alley and was the first to fire at him, told BCA investigators that once Blevins took the gun from his pocket, “I feared for my life. I feared for my partner’s life.” Investigators also found evidence that Blevins fired his gun during the chase.

“We can’t tell for sure that Blevins shot at the officers. That certainly seems to be the case,” Freeman said, adding that the fact that Blevins pointed a loaded gun near them gave the officers “sufficient justification” to shoot him.

We’ll never know why Thurman Blevins ran from police, or why he didn’t respond when they repeatedly told him to put his hands up and to drop his gun. No video footage can prove intent or state of mind, nor can it predict what would have happened next if Schmidt and Kelly hadn’t fired.

Those questions will go unanswered as gun violence claims yet another life on the streets of America.