A closer look at the case file in police shooting of Blevins

Over the course of five weeks, investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension canvassed 424 addresses, interviewed 46 police officers and reviewed hours of surveillance and body camera footage, producing a written report of more than 2,000 pages.

The following summarizes portions of the investigation.

The police response

Thurman Blevins was not the only suspect officers encountered June 23 as they searched for a man who allegedly fired shots into the sky and ground.

Officers in a squad on Lyndale approached 46thAvenue North and found a man wearing a gray tank top with a backpack containing a small BB gun. When they received word of shots fired and one down nearby, they released the man from handcuffs without getting an ID, saying he didn’t fully match the caller’s description. The 911 caller identified Blevins by name as the suspect later that night.

Officer Justin Schmidt spotted Blevins with a backpack on the corner of 48th & Camden shortly before 5:30 p.m. He was sitting next to Olya Weseman, the mother of his child, with her own daughter in a stroller. Officer Ryan Kelly said Blevins fit the suspect description “almost to a T,” and Schmidt noticed what appeared to be a handle of a gun in his right pocket.

Investigators separately interviewed both officers on June 25.

“So I drew my firearm because at this point we were only, I estimate ten to fifteen feet away from him,” Schmidt told investigators. “So for my safety I drew my gun, exited the squad and I said put your f—ing hands up.”

Schmidt said Blevins’ eyebrows raised in surprise, and he grabbed a bottle and took off running. Kelly said he also drew his gun because he thought Blevins had a hand on the butt of a gun. Blevins wasn’t in a dead sprint, he said. Every time Blevins slowed and turned to look at him, Kelly said he thought he would start shooting.

Weseman told investigators that Blevins is scared of police, and she didn’t know any reason for him to run.

Kelly kept yelling in the hope that Blevins would stop and take his hand off the gun, he said.

“Instead he crosses the street at this point and now I know that we are [in] a, a very bad situation. Because now he’s leading us somewhere and I don’t know where he’s going,” Kelly said.

Schmidt said he asked Blevins several times to put his hands in the air. When Blevins dropped the bottle and reached into his pocket, Schmidt said he threatened deadly force.

“I didn’t do nothing, bro,” Blevins said as he ran. “…Please don’t shoot me. Leave me alone.”

Schmidt said he saw Blevins pull the gun out of his pocket, and Schmidt stopped, aimed for “center mass,” and fired until Blevins fell to the ground.

“To me he had every bit of intent on shooting my partner and I. I gave him numerous chances to give up. And he continued to escalate the situation by first grabbing onto his firearm, then clearing it from his pocket,” Schmidt said.

From Kelly’s point of view, he said Blevins’ arm came up, he heard shots, and he saw the barrel of the gun.  He said he was pretty sure Blevins got a shot off. Thinking his partner might have been shot, Kelly said he fired until Blevins hit the ground.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said a spent cartridge in the alley would lead one to believe that Blevins fired his gun as well.

The National Center for Audio and Video Forensics determined at least 14 shots were fired. The autopsy indicated Blevins was struck by four bullets.

A Benjamin Franklin plumbing truck was hit with three bullets. A man standing outside his car discovered that one bullet went through the driver’s side windshield of his Chevy Malibu; he told investigators his girlfriend was in the passenger seat.

Both officers said they watched their body camera videos prior to their interviews with state investigators. Schmidt said Minneapolis Internal Affairs provided access to the video about an hour before the interview, and he watched it with his attorney, pausing the video to review key moments.

When Kelly reviewed the body camera video, he said he was surprised to discover pitbulls had been chasing him.

Some other officers who responded to the scene also reviewed body camera video prior to interviews, and several said the practice is within the bounds of Minneapolis Police Department policy.

The 911 call

“I didn’t know all of this s— was gonna happen,” the 911 caller told investigators after police shot and killed Blevins. Investigators called him at 10:56 p.m. to learn more about what he had seen.

The 911 caller wanted to remain anonymous. People said they would kill the person who snitched, he said. He explained that he knew Blevins personally as “June.” Earlier that day, he said he greeted Blevins, who had a bottle of liquor in his hand. “Next thing you know” Blevins shot into the air in the alley at 46th & Lyndale, the caller said.

“A drunk dude in the neighborhood with a gun and kids around, hell yeah I was nervous,” the caller said.

Blevins had reportedly been angry with a friend of his, Willie, for drinking his liquor, and punched Willie in the face. Blevins fired a second shot into the ground near 46th & Bryant, the caller said.

A police report describing the initial 911 call said no ShotSpotter activation was found. The gunshots are not captured on surveillance video, according to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Freeman’s office said those factors are not significant, because the 911 caller reported being near Blevins, and ShotSpotter doesn’t pick up every block in the city.

Investigators spoke with nearby residents who said they didn’t hear the shots alleged in the 911 call.

“Nobody heard any gunshots prior to it,” said one resident who spoke with investigators, requesting to remain anonymous in the Southwest Journal out of fear for her safety. “We want people to know the truth. … The family wants justice, we all want justice, and we just want some type of normal policing in our neighborhood. Period.”

Investigators interviewed other people who had seen Blevins that day. One woman said she was with him for about 10-15 minutes, and she was present when Blevins punched Willie. She watched Blevins walk off with his “baby mama,” and she described him as a little intoxicated but not bad. She said she didn’t see him with a gun.

After midnight on June 24, BCA investigators recovered a gold 9mm casing from the northwest corner of 46th& Bryant, a location described by the 911 caller. The Hennepin County Attorney’s office said the cartridge case was later determined to have been fired from the gun Blevins carried, a Smith and Wesson 9mm handgun.

Cartridge casings linked to the Smith and Wesson were also recovered nine days before the shooting at the 4500 block of Bryant Avenue North as part of a burglary crime scene, according to the BCA.

A police report stated that on June 14 a man wearing a dark backpack allegedly entered the basement window of a home owned by Weseman, the woman sitting with Blevins when police encountered him days later. A man sleeping in the house told police he heard a window break and confronted a suspect that he couldn’t identify. The suspect fled the scene and pointed a handgun into the sky and fired one round, according to the report.

When asked about residents who are skeptical of the initial 911 call on June 23, Freeman’s office said the case is “not a numbers game.”

“One person reported seeing a man shooting a gun in the city. Police are required to respond to that and investigate,” the attorney’s office said in a statement.

Freeman said in press conference that reckless shooting on the Northside needs to stop, and said he was proud of the 911 caller.

A firearms trace by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms indicates the Smith and Wesson gun Blevins carried on June 23 was purchased by Anthony De Lawrance Ruffin in 2014. De Lawrance said he didn’t know his gun was missing until BCA investigators knocked on his door. He said Weseman and his wife are friends.

The aftermath

Surveillance video shows that several men attempted to break in to Blevins’ apartment two days after he died.

“I’m scared to let my kids play right here,” one resident told investigators. “Up until last week this park was filled with kids. And as a mother my kids are inside right now. And that’s not fair when we pay for a park. But it’s not your guys’ fault, it’s not the police fault, it’s not the neighborhood’s fault, everybody needs to come together right now.”