St. Paul police release body, car camera video of shooting

Published 5:37 pm Friday, December 9, 2022

ST. PAUL — Police on Thursday released video from body and squad car cameras that they said shows an exchange of gunfire between a St. Paul officer and the man he fatally shot, but the family of the dead man said the images fell short of their calls for full transparency.

Howard Johnson, 24, died at a hospital after the Monday shooting. His family and community members have been urging police to make the videos public.

The police department said in a statement that Sgt. Cody Blanshan’s body camera video shows a shootout between him and Johnson. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said agents are reviewing video to determine who fired first, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported.

Kenneth Manning, Johnson’s stepfather, said the newly released images are not sufficient.

“We need to see all the footage available clean and unedited. What they showed us has been put together to control the narrative, but what we need is the unfiltered truth,” Manning was quoted as saying by the Star Tribune.

Blanshan’s attorney, Paul Engh, said in a statement provided to The Associated Press that his client’s “use of deadly force was completely justified. He believed he was about to be killed, and he was. He has provided a thorough statement to the BCA.”

The body camera video clip released by the police shows Blanshan driving a department car. At one point he says: “Hey, he’s right there,” and, “He’s got the gun in his right hand.” Then Blanshan says: “He’s pointing at a car, he’s trying to carjack right now.”

Blanshan accelerates, jumps out of the car and yells “Don’t do it!” before at least 10 gunshots are heard. Johnson falls to the ground with what appears to be a gun at his side. The department isolated screen grabs that show what they say is a gun in Johnson’s right hand, pointing over his left shoulder. One of the images appears to show a muzzle flash.

Video from a squad car camera provides a different perspective, from a distance. In it, what appears to be a gunshot is heard before Blanshan gets out of the vehicle.

St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry said in a statement that any loss of life is tragic.

“We know there aren’t words to alleviate their pain,” he said, referring to Johnson’s family, “but we hope the release of these videos will help begin to answer some of their questions.”

State investigators said police were responding to a domestic assault call and a report of a man, later identified as Johnson, with a gun. As police were searching for him, a woman nearby got into her car and was starting to drive away when “Johnson approached her vehicle and was pointing a gun at her,” the BCA said.

Surveillance video shows the squad car hit Johnson, knocking him to the ground. Johnson gets up and the “video appears to show an exchange of gunfire between him and Blanshan, during which Johnson was struck,” the BCA said.

Johnson had been convicted in recent years of felony domestic abuse and fleeing from police. Family members say he was the father of 4-year-old twins.

According to personnel records, Blanshan, 38, joined the department in 2013 and was promoted to sergeant last year. He has two reprimands for minor accidents in his squad car, but no other discipline and no known complaints.

His file shows four commendations, including a letter of recognition from then-Police Chief Todd Axtell for his role in the November 2017 recovery of a cold and injured man who fell 40 feet and got stuck in a narrow space between a downtown parking ramp and a building.

He remains on administrative leave.