Lack of charges indicative of larger systemic failure of police accountability
No charges will be filed against the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers responsible for fatally shooting Thurman Blevins, announced Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman during a tense press conference on July 30.
Blevins, 31, was shot and killed in the Camden neighborhood on June 23 by MPD officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt who were responding to a 911 call of an intoxicated man shooting a handgun in the air and at the ground.
- Protesters decry lack of prosecution in Blevins shooting (photos)
- City releases bodycam footage of Blevins shooting
“These cases tear apart our community,” said Freeman. “No one wins today: A young man is dead, our officers face increasing criticism and scrutiny, and the community is devastated.”
Civil rights attorney and community activist Nekima Levy-Armstrong, however, challenged Freeman’s concerns for the community.
“You have justified police murder since you’ve been in office Mike Freeman,” she said while commandeering the conference alongside Blevins’ family and community members.
On July 29, the City of Minneapolis released the raw body cam video from both police officers, as well as video stabilized and analyzed by a third-party entity contracted by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). The video was slowed down at various points when it appeared to show Blevins with a gun, including at the time he is shot.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, who spoke at a press conference Sunday following the video’s release, said that the City did so “in the interest of full transparency” and that transparency is a necessity for “good governance.” Frey added that the early release of the tapes — just one day prior to Freeman’s decision —was contingent on consultation with the Blevins’ family and the completion of BCA interviews with witnesses.
Freeman said his decision to not file charges, which he made last week, was based on camera footage, along with forensic evidence and witness testimony. He also said the officers’ actions were justifiable under the law of using deadly force.
“When Mr. Blevins fled from the officers with a loaded handgun, refused to follow their commands for him to stop and show his hands, and then took the gun out of his pocket and
turned toward the officers, Mr. Blevins represented a danger to the lives of Officer Schmidt and Officer Kelly and members of the community,” said Freeman.
Both officers remain on paid leave while the MPD finishes their internal investigation. Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo cited the investigation as the reason he would not comment on Freeman’s decision.
A deadly trend meets a fed-up community
“We are here today for the truth and for justice,” added Blevins’ cousin, Sydnee Brown, who is serving as a spokesperson for the Justice for June Committee. “The family is hurt; the family is devastated. We knew everything was going to play out exactly the way it played out.
“At the end of the day, we want the cops arrested in the next 48 hours and prosecuted to the fullest degree of the law because this was murder.”
Officers avoiding charges in fatal shootings in Minneapolis – like the deaths of Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Phuong Lee, Justine Damond, Terrence Franklin and, now, Thurman “Junior” Blevins, have become part of a systemic trend spanning the country.
In 2018, 584 people were shot and killed by police per the Washington Post. Between 2005 and 2015, more than 1,000 officers were involved in fatal police-involved shootings, but only 54 of them were charged with a crime, according to the same report. A study conducted by Bowling Green University also showed that 98 percent of fatal shootings by on-duty officers were deemed justifiable in 2015.
There are only two cases in recent Twin Cities history in which charges have been filed against officers involved in fatal shootings: that of Philando Castile and Justine Damond. The officer who shot and killed Castile was acquitted of all charges by a jury and Damond’s case is still in progress.
“This Thurman Blevins case did not happen in a vacuum, it happened as part of a history of corruption at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department,” said Levy-Armstrong, adding, “It is not an isolated incident — it is part of a pattern that shows [the MPD] diminish the lives of Black residents in Minneapolis.”
In separate statements, the NAACP and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) both condemned Freeman’s failure to file charges and the MPD officers’ actions.
In a statement, Leslie Badue, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, called Blevins’ shooting a “systemic assassination.” She added, “Officers Justin Schmidt and Ryan Kelly did not see the humanity in Blevins… from the beginning, they had no intention of deescalating the situation.”
“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’ killing,” said John Gordon, executive director of the Minnesota ACLU.
Blevins’ family just wants justice.
“I don’t want the media and the world to think we are angry. We aren’t angry. We’re more so disgusted,” said Brown. “We’re disgusted by the leaders of the world; we’re disgusted by the leaders of Minneapolis and Minnesota.”
Protests have been planned throughout the week in response to the lack of charges.