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St. Paul, MINN – Late Sunday evening, the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) released body camera footage from the police killing of Thurman Blevins. Minneapolis Police Officer Justin Schmidt shot and killed Blevins on June 23, 2018, in North Minneapolis. The following statement can be attributed to ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon:
The body camera footage of the police shooting of Thurman Blevins released Sunday evening is disturbing, terrifying, and appalling. The footage shows that Officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt unnecessarily escalated a situation and failed to do their duty to investigate and protect. We cannot continue to allow police officers to threaten, intimidate, and harm communities without accountability.
Before even encountering Blevins, Officer Kelly told a bystander that he was looking for a “drunk black guy with a gun.” That is how Officer Kelly and Officer Schmidt viewed Blevins before ever interacting with him.
When police found Blevins, he was not fleeing or threatening anyone with a weapon. He was sitting on a curb, with his girlfriend and a child in a stroller next to him. No one was in imminent danger. But the police officers abruptly stopped their vehicle and jumped out with their guns raised. Officer Schmidt yelled, “Put your fucking hands up now,” and “I will fucking shoot you.” Blevins ran. The two officers fired 14 bullets at Blevins as he ran. Officer Schmidt shot him four times in the back.
Less than 40 seconds after the officers left their vehicle, Blevins lay dying in the street.
There was no questioning. There was no investigation. There was no attempt at de-escalation. The police escalated the situation rather than diffusing it—ultimately leading to Blevins’s killing.
County Attorney Mike Freeman has declined to prosecute. Even if he had decided to prosecute, courts have a poor track record in holding police accountable, and the odds would have been stacked against justice. But the behavior of the officers leading up to the shooting should not be tolerated, and we must seek justice and accountability through other systems.
While not a comprehensive list, the ACLU of Minnesota is calling for at least the following:
- The MPD should request an independent investigation into the actions of Officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt, and the officers should be held accountable up to and including termination if they violated department policy.
- The Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board should investigate the actions of both Officers Schmidt and Kelly leading up to the shooting to determine whether it should revoke their peace-officer licenses.
- The MPD should release raw footage of all the officers on the scene, including all footage before and after shots were fired.
- Mayor Jacob Frey and the MPD should conduct and make public a comprehensive audit of all use-of-force incidents over the past decade.
- MPD should begin an immediate overhaul of the policies and consequences for actions leading up to all use-of-force incidents, including this incident. It should consult with community members, who should play an active and meaningful role in the development and implementation of any changes.
- The POST Board should no longer accept continuing-education credits for the fear-based training reportedly taken by both Officer Schmidt and Officer Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile.
- The Minnesota Legislature should change state law to allow for a civilian review board with the power to subpoena, make fact findings, and discipline officers.
It is imperative that when deadly-force incidents occur, video from dash camera footage be released quickly, regardless of whether an investigation is ongoing. We cannot rely on the whim of the MPD to release the footage. To build transparency and trust, such a practice should be department policy and required by law.
We do not live in a police state—police officers should not be permitted to shoot first and ask questions later. We have time and time again called for police accountability following incidents of police violence. But the police continue to kill people in our community. Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo have promised change—now is the time the deliver on that promise.
The ACLU-MN is a non-profit organization that works to defend the civil liberties of all Minnesotans. Learn more at www.aclu-mn.org