Blevins family demands immediate release of shooting video; Frey aims for end of July

Sydnee Brown speaking to the media at the July 20 news conference. Keith Schubert/MSR News

After a closed-door meeting between family members of Thurman Blevins and city officials, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, a committee seeking justice for Blevins, also known as “June” or “Junior,” called for the immediate release of police body camera footage in his shooting death.

Blevins, 31, was fatally shot on June 23 by Minneapolis Police Officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt. According to a 911 transcript, the officers responded to a call about a person firing a handgun in the air and at the ground. However, conflicting stories have surfaced from neighbors who refute the MPD’s account.

“We have given the mayor and his assistant way too much time, so we are here demanding the tapes be released immediately,” said Sydnee Brown, a Blevins family member and spokesperson for the group at the news conference on June 20. The last acceptable day for the release of the tapes is Monday, July 23, Brown said.

In spite of the group’s deadline, Frey released a statement shortly after the news conference that said, “At this point, I can say with confidence that the video footage will be released by the end of July.”

According to state law, body camera footage taken when officers use force resulting in great bodily harm is public record. But officials can hold the footage from the public for long periods of time because it is often considered evidence in an “active investigation” and is not subject to immediate release.

In other police-involved shootings, it has taken several months for police body camera footage to be released. In the case of Justine Damond, who was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer on July 15, 2017, the footage still hasn’t been released.

However, in the case of Blevins, the conversation focused on the police video footage almost immediately after the shooting, with Frey announcing that the officers involved were wearing body cameras that were activated the entire time.

Then, Blevins family members held protests and spoke up at city council meetings to call for the release of the footage. The demands from the family and community helped prompt all 13 city council members to sign a statement requesting that the body camera footage be released immediately.

Members of Justice for June outside of City Hall on July 20. Keith Schubert/MSR News

After mounting pressure from the community, along with a stated desire for “transparency,” Mayor Frey took the unusual step of announcing that he would release the footage before the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, (BCA) — a state agency that investigates all officer-involved shootings —  finished its investigation. Frey said after he consulted with the Blevins family, and the BCA interviewed key witnesses, the tapes would be released.

At the conference, Brown said the family appreciated Frey’s original offer, but so far, the mayor had been dishonest with them throughout the process by sending them “on a wild goose chase for the tapes.”

Civil rights attorney and activist Nekima Levy-Pounds said she agreed with the mayor that the family should be consulted before the tapes are released. But, she pointed out that under state law, officers have a chance to review the body camera footage before giving their statements to investigators. “How can an investigation possibly retain integrity and transparency when cops have the chance to review body camera footage before the BCA interviews, but witnesses don’t?” she asked in a Facebook post.

In addition to the release of the body camera footage, Brown said the committee is also calling for Kelly and Schmidt to be “prosecuted to the fullest degree of the law.” Both officers are currently on administrative leave.

“You have two known corrupt cops working behind the MPD,” said Brown, referring to the multiple complaints lodged against each officer. She added, “We do not believe there would have been any circumstance that would have justified the shooting. Thurman Blevins had no chance of coming out alive when these two officers approached him.”

If the tapes are not released Monday, the committee will continue to hold demonstrations and press their case. “We’re at the point where we’re not going to let what’s happening to keep happening,” said Brown.

The call for the release of the tapes continues with two scheduled gatherings. A peace walk is set to take place Friday, July 27 at 2:30 pm at Arlington Hills Community Center in St. Paul, followed by a rally and march on Saturday, July 28 at 12 pm outside the Hennepin County Government Center.