Protesters gathered with calls to “prosecute the police” June 24 at 48th & Camden, the site where a day earlier police shot and killed a man following a brief confrontation.
Police and witnesses tell different stories about the June 23 shooting of Thurman Junior Blevins, 31.* While police said the man was armed, at least two witnesses said they don’t believe it and never saw a gun.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said two officers fired their weapons: Officer Ryan Kelly, with the department since 2013, and Officer Justin Schmidt, with the department since 2014.
Officers’ body cameras recorded the shooting, according to the BCA, which is investigating the incident. Mayor Jacob Frey said in a statement Tuesday that he would release body camera footage as soon as Blevins’ family is consulted and the BCA finishes interviewing key witnesses. In a joint statement, all 13 members of the City Council said they “stand in solidarity with Northsiders” and urged the release of police body camera footage and other evidence from the shooting.
Blevins died of multiple gunshot wounds, according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, which listed an address for Blevins on the 4600 block of Lyndale Avenue North. The time of death was listed as 5:35 p.m.
According to the BCA, police received a 911 call just before 5:30 p.m. reporting a man firing a handgun near 46th Avenue and Lyndale Avenue North. Officers encountered a man sitting on a curb near 48th & Camden, and as officers exited the squad, he fled on foot, allegedly carrying a black and silver gun.
The officers pursued him on foot, and shot and killed him. He was pronounced dead at the scene, in the alley at the 4700 block of Bryant Ave. N. The BCA recovered a black and silver handgun from the scene.
The early MPD account said 911 callers provided a detailed description of the suspect, his clothing and a silver 9 mm handgun, reporting he was shooting into the air and ground.
“They killed that man for no reason. He was just sitting there,” said resident Eva Watson.
Watson said she saw Blevins sitting on the corner with a woman and a little girl in a stroller, all of them nicely dressed. She said she watched police jump out and use a Taser on Blevins. He grabbed his bottle and ran toward the alley, she said, and police chased him and shot at him. She heard him beg police not to kill him.
Blevins’ sister recently died, and he probably had a lot on his mind when police confronted him, said a man who described himself as Blevins’ cousin.
“He was a good dude. Always been a good dude,” he said.
“He didn’t do nothing,” said another cousin. “He did what he did to survive.”
Activist Mel Reeves led chants of “No justice, no peace. Prosecute the police.” He said the presence of a gun shouldn’t matter in the case.
“It’s not against the law to have a gun. It’s not a death sentence to have a gun,” Reeves said.
At the vigil, people expressed anger at seeing the death of another young black man in the neighborhood.
“Ain’t no justice. It’s just us,” said one attendee.
“Get your education y’all so you can beat them in the courtroom,” said another woman. “Because that’s where the fight is at.”
“We stood out here for Jamar, we stood out here for Philando. … We’ve done that for years, to no avail, with all due respect,” said Jerome Peters, referring to Jamar Clark and Philando Castile, two black men shot and killed by Twin Cities police.
Peters called a group of young men to stand before the crowd.
“Look at their face,” he said. “… They scared. They uncertain. They don’t know what to do. … We can’t keep letting this happen. That could have been him, him, him, him, me, you. That could have been you, if you live in a low-income neighborhood.”
As an officer, Kelly received five complaints, all of which were dismissed with no discipline, according to the MPD. Schmidt received three complaints, one that is still open and two closed with no discipline.
Formerly assigned to the 5th Precinct, Schmidt spoke with the Southwest Journal in 2015 during a ride-along focused on the police chaplain program, which was expanding at the time. He said he spent 13 years in the Air Force before joining the MPD. He didn’t want to work anywhere else, he said.
Schmidt is also employed by Archway Defense, and according to the company’s website, he was motivated to join the military following the 9/11 attacks. He’s taught firearms and use of force to thousands of students in the public and private sectors, according to Archway. He received a Department Award of Merit in 2015 and the Chief’s Award of Merit in 2016.
Kelly received a Lifesaving Award in 2015 and a Medal of Commendation in 2016. He is also a combat medic and instructor with Sentinel Tactical Emergency Medicine, which specializes in patrol officer medical care, according to the company website.
When the investigation is complete, the BCA will turn over evidence to the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman pledged to stop using grand juries in police shooting cases following Clark’s death in 2015, citing concerns about the lack of transparency and accountability with the secret panels. Freeman reserved the charging decision for himself in the Clark case, ultimately deciding the officer who shot Clark in the head during a struggle was acting reasonably to protect his partner’s safety.
Freeman did, however, call a grand jury to investigate the 2017 shooting of Justine Damond, also known as Justine Ruszczyk, who was killed by one of the two officers who responded to her 911 call. Freeman said the lack of cooperation by police left him no choice but to use a grand jury to compel their testimony, and the decision to charge former officer Mohamed Noor with murder and manslaughter was his call and not the grand jury’s.
Mayor Frey released a statement the night of the shooting describing Blevins’ death as a “tragedy.” Saying he needed to focus his attention on the incident, he pulled out of participating in the next day’s annual Twin Cities Pride parade.
“Regardless of what happened tonight — too many times, people from across Minneapolis and the Twin Cities have been stung by the pain of a life lost in the course of an encounter with law enforcement. Regardless of what happened tonight — the historical trauma inflicted on communities of color is never far from nearly every facet of our lives,” Frey wrote in the statement.
In their joint statement, City Council members wrote: “We, too, have many questions and call for full transparency about what took place before and led to this tragedy. Expediency and integrity are key to transparency and building trust. We ask for the BCA to answer our call for evidence to be released as soon as legally possible.”
— Dylan Thomas contributed to this report
*This story has been corrected to name Thurman Junior Blevins, rather than Blevins Jr.