No charges for officers who shot Blevins

Protest disrupts county attorney’s announcement

Sydnee Brown, at the podium, a first cousin of Thurman Blevins, said his family was "disgusted" that the officers who shot and killed Blevins would not be charged. Photo by Dylan Thomas

The Minneapolis police officers who shot and killed a man June 23 as he fled through a North Minneapolis alley will not face criminal charges, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said Monday.

Freeman said the officers’ decision to use deadly force against 31-year-old Thurman Junior Blevins complied with state law. He presented video and eyewitness evidence that Blevins was armed with a loaded handgun when he ran from officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt, and the officers told investigators they fired after Blevins pointed the gun in their direction.

Mayor Jacob Frey released footage from the body cameras worn by Kelly and Schmidt late Sunday. He described the video as “traumatic” but said its release was an important step toward transparency.

Freeman announced his decision not to charge in mid-morning press conference on the 20th floor of the Hennepin County Government Center, where he praised the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for conducting a “thorough, professional and expedited investigation.” He said police officers, including Kelly and Schmidt, were “promptly” available for interviews after the shooting.

“These cases tear our community apart,” Freeman said. “No one wins today. A young man is dead, our officers face increasing criticism and scrutiny and the community is devastated.”

The county attorney had made it through barely two pages of an 11-page prepared statement when a group of family members and activists took control of the meeting, shouting over Freeman, who left the room.

“You have justified police murder since you’ve been in office, Mike Freeman,” said Nekima Levy-Pounds, an attorney and 2017 mayoral candidate.

Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman walked out of a press conference after he was shouted down by protesters. Photo by Dylan Thomas
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman walked out of a press conference after he was shouted down by protesters. Photo by Dylan Thomas

Sydnee Brown, Blevin’s first cousin, said the family was “devastated” by his death. Brown said they anticipated Freeman would not file charges against the officers and were prepared for the news.

“I don’t want the media and the world to think we are angry. We’re not angry. We’re more so disgusted,” Brown said. “We’re disgusted by the leaders of the world. We’re disgusted by the leaders of Minneapolis and Minnesota. And at the end of the day, we want the cops arrested within the next 48 hours and prosecuted to the fullest degree of the law, because this is murder.”

Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, said based on the video the officers clearly used excessive force in the confrontation with Blevins. Levy-Pounds said the officers’ reaction demonstrated a “hyper-fear of black men with guns.”

A protest outside of the Hennepin County Government Center is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Before he left the room, Freeman emphasized that his department had a “limited role” in setting police policy, adding that he could bring charges “in only the most egregious cases.”

“We are not the guardians for enforcing or making police policy. We do not have the jurisdiction or the authority to discipline police officers who act in a manner which we dislike,” he said.

According to the narrative provided by the county attorney’s office, the incident began just before 5:30 p.m. on June 23 with a 911 call reporting a person with a gun near the intersection of 46th & Lyndale. The caller said a man who appeared intoxicated had fired the weapon in the air and into the ground.

Responding to the call in their patrol vehicle, Kelly and Schmidt came across Blevins several blocks away at the corner of 48th & Camden. The body-worn camera footage shows Blevins sitting on a curb next to a woman, a young child in a stroller and a dog on a leash. In documents provided by the county attorney’s office, the woman is identified as Olya Weseman, the mother of Blevins’ child.

In the video, the officers note as they approach in their car that the man on the curb has a bottle of liquor and matches the description given by the 911 caller. Schmidt then yells “He’s got a gun” and quickly exits the vehicle, followed by Kelly. Blevins runs away down the street as Schmidt and Kelly follow. The officers order Blevins to drop the weapon and put his hands up, warning that they will shoot.

“I didn’t do nothing, bro,” Blevins is heard to say as he flees on foot, denying that he has a gun. Blevins shouts “Please don’t shoot me” and “Leave me alone” as he turns down an alley.

Schmidt told investigators he saw Blevins drop the bottle of liquor and then reach into his pocket. Schmidt said he saw the gun and feared for his life, and that’s when he stopped running, aimed and fired at Blevins.

Kelly told investigators that he followed Schmidt and Blevins into the alley and at one point thought he saw Blevins’ handgun pointing directly at him, adding that he was “pretty sure” he heard Blevins fire a shot. Kelly also fired on Blevins.

An autopsy conducted by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner determined Blevins died of multiple gunshot wounds. He was struck by four bullets.

A Smith & Wesson pistol was found near Blevins’ body. Investigators also recovered two cartridge casings they said were fired from the pistol: one at 46th & Bryant, near the location of the original 911 call, and another in the alley where Blevins was killed.

Chris Case, a witness who was in the alley during the foot chase, told investigators he saw Blevins pull a gun out of his the waistband of his pants as he was running. But Case said he didn’t see Blevins fire the gun.

Freeman said it was “irrelevant” to his charging decision whether Blevins actually fired at the officers or not. He said it was possible but unlikely that the casing found in the alley came from a cartridge fired earlier near 46th & Bryant.

Freeman said “the mere act of turning and pointing a handgun” was “sufficient” for the officers to use deadly force.

“We don’t have to prove that he shot at them to conclude our analysis that the police officers were authorized in using deadly force to respond,” he said.

Freeman said he made the decision not to charge late last week. He said he “slept on it” Friday night and concluded it was the right decision Saturday morning.

In a joint statement, state Reps. Fue Lee and Raymond Dehn and state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, all legislators representing the North Side, said their hearts were with Blevins’ family, adding that they would “continue looking comprehensively at our state laws and use-of-force policies to keep both our communities of color and police officers safe.”

“It’s not a crime to drink in our society and it’s not a crime to have a gun, but there are many things that could have been done differently — by Thurman Blevins and by Officers Justin Schmidt and Ryan Kelly,” the statement read. “It seems that officers choose other options with white suspects than they do with suspects of color, and we must change that.”