Two police officers shot and killed Thurman Blevins Jr., a 31-year-old black man, from behind after a frantic foot chase through a residential Minneapolis neighborhood, body camera footage released Sunday shows. Blevins, however, did appear to have a gun on him, as the officers previously claimed.
“Stop,” one of the officers shouts in the video. “Put your hands up, I will fucking shoot you.”
“Come on man. I didn’t do nothing,” Blevins responds while running. “Please don’t shoot me.”
Blevins’ death on June 23 touched off protests led by community members who disputed the officers’ accounts that Blevins was armed and posed a threat. The body camera footage, police now contend, proves that Blevins had a gun. After he’s shot, one of the officers kicks an item resembling a firearm away from his body.
But community members, including Blevins’ family, question why officers approached him at all.
"He didn't deserve to die," Blevins’ cousin Sydnee Brown told the Star Tribune. "He wasn't a threat when (the officers) approached him. They didn't view him as a human being."
The Hennepin County District Attorney, who oversees Minneapolis, announced that neither of the officers involved would face charges Monday morning.
The two officers, Justin Schmidt and Ryan Kelly, were originally responding to reports of a man firing a handgun into the air in north Minneapolis around 5.30 p.m. on Saturday, June 23. As the officers drive around the neighborhood, one of them appears to notice Blevins and says, “He’s got a bottle of gin.”
The officers then pull over their patrol car to where Blevins was sitting on the curb near a woman and a child in a stroller. “He’s got a gun,” one of them says. Officer Schmidt then exits the vehicle and starts pursuing Blevins on foot. Officer Kelly follows his lead.
“You’ve got a gun,” Schmidt shouts.
“No,” Blevins replies.
“Put it down,” Schmidt shouts. “Put it down, I will fucking shoot you. Put your hands up.”
“Leave me alone,” Blevins responds.
The chase lasts about 45-seconds. Then, Blevins turns into an alleyway, where the two officers open fire on him with around a dozen shots. Blevins falls to the ground. An autopsy later found that Blevins died from “multiple gunshot wounds.”
“Shots fired! Shots fired! One down,” Kelly says and immediately calls for an ambulance.
“He’s still moving,” Kelly adds afterwards.
“I gotcha,” said Schmidt, looking at Blevins on the ground.
As the officers approach Blevins body there is what appears to be a silver handgun by his right side. One officer kicks it away.
In the aftermath of the shooting, conflicting accounts arose about what happened. Some witnesses said Blevins was unarmed, while others supported the officers’ version of events in which Blevins had a gun. Minneapolis City Council member Jeremiah Ellison (whose the son of Rep. Keith Ellison) led community members in their demand for answers and transparency. Protesters also called for the city to fire the officers involved and cover the costs of Blevins’ funeral.
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey directed the release of the body camera footage, along with the transcript of the original 911 call and other materials, according to police department spokesperson John Elder. In addition to the body camera footage, Minneapolis Police Department also released the personnel files of the officers.
Both Kelly and Schmidt are military veterans and joined the Department in 2013 and 2014, respectively. They’ve also both had complaints filed against them in the past, although the files don’t specify the nature of them. Five complaints were filed against Kelly, all of which were closed without discipline. Three complaints were filed against Schmidt; two were closed without discipline, and one remains open. The Minneapolis Police Department declined to comment further on Blevins’ death.
“Because there is a criminal investigation that is still ongoing we are unable to talk,” Elder said at a Sunday evening press conference. “We can say that Chief (Medaria) Arradondo is still engaged and will continue to engage with the community, but we regret that because of this investigation we are unable to speak further.”
Both Schmidt and Kelly have been put on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
The Twin Cities have seen several high profile officer-involved shootings in recent years. In July 2016, a St. Anthony police officer shot and killed Philando Castile, a 32-year-old black cafeteria worker, during a routine traffic stop after Castile said he was armed. Almost exactly one year later, a Minneapolis police officer fatally shot Justine Diamond, a 40-year-old white Australian woman in the head after she called 911 to report a possible assault in the alleyway by her house. And in Nov. 2015, a Minneapolis officer shot and killed Jamar Clark, a 24-year-old black man: police contended he reached for an officers’ weapon, others claimed he was handcuffed at the time he was shot.
The officers who killed Castile and Clark were acquitted of charges. The officer who shot Diamond was charged with murder in March.
Cover image: Screenshot via body camera footage released by the Minneapolis Police Department