Central Minnesota prosecutor reviewing Winston Smith death

A Minnesota prosecutor is reviewing evidence in law enforcement’s fatal shooting of Winston Smith Jr. during an arrest in June as he sat in an SUV at a Minneapolis parking ramp.

Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan told the Star Tribune he will review the evidence on his own and hopes to have a charging decision by mid-October.

Two members of a U.S. Marshals Service fugitive task force shot Smith on June 3 while trying to arrest him for allegedly being a felon in possession of a firearm, a preliminary investigation found.

Ryan, whose Brainerd office is 125 miles (201 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, said he was asked to take the case because counties closer to the Twin Cities had conflicts. The Marshals Service task force members who fired their weapons were sheriff’s deputies from Ramsey County and Hennepin County, both in the metro area. A third metro-area county also had at least one deputy on the task force.

Ryan said he’s had "a few" police deadly force cases since he was elected in 1994 and doesn’t recall ever deciding to charge an officer. Ryan said he understands that fatal police shootings have often prompted protests and civil unrest, but that won’t affect his decision.

"I have a case, I’m going to review the evidence and will make the decision that the evidence calls for," he said.

Authorities said Smith, who was Black, showed a handgun and fired it. Attorneys for a woman who was with him, Norhan Askar, say authorities did not identify themselves as law enforcement as they surrounded the SUV and she never saw a gun on Smith or in his vehicle. She said Smith was shot after he held up a cellphone to begin recording.

Both deputies who shot Smith were working undercover so their names are barred from release under state law, authorities have said.

State investigators have also said they were unaware of any video of the shooting. The lack of video raised questions and Smith’s family members and activists have called for transparency.

When Smith was killed, Minneapolis was already on edge following the death of George Floyd more than a year earlier, and the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by an officer in nearby Brooklyn Center in April.