No charges against Minneapolis police officers in Thurman Blevins shooting

Image 1 of 2

Courtesy: Minneapolis Police Department

No criminal charges will be filed against the Minneapolis police officers involved in the June 23 fatal shooting of Thurman Blevins, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced in a news release Monday.

“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," Freeman said in a statement. “Their decision to use deadly force against Mr. Blevins under those circumstances was authorized by Minn. Stat. § 609.066 and as such there is no basis to issue criminal charges against either officer.”

Freeman's conclusion from investigation

"Witness testimony, body camera video and forensic testing all proved that Blevins had a nine millimeter semi-automatic handgun in his hand and refused multiple commands to drop the gun during the foot chase that ended in his death on June 23," Freeman said.

"The two officers, Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt, were responding to a 911 call by a resident who said he had seen an apparently drunk man walking down the street firing a semi-automatic handgun into the air and into the ground. The caller was concerned about the safety of himself and his neighbors. The caller also gave a very detailed description of the shooter.

"Kelly and Schmidt responded to the call and eventually saw Blevins sitting at the corner of 48th and Camden Avenues North with a bottle in his hand and a woman and a baby in a stroller nearby. Blevins matched the description and as they were stopping the car, Officer Schmidt yelled, “he’s got a gun,” which he could see protruding from Blevins’ pants pocket, Freeman said.

"Blevins refused the officers orders to drop his gun and put his hands up, and instead, led the two officers on a foot chase that ended in an alley between Aldrich and Bryant and 48th and 47th avenues. Blevins took the gun from his pants pocket and began to turn towards the officers." Officer Schmidt immediately fired and Kelly, who was a short distance behind, also fired, Freeman stated. The officers fired 14 shots from their weapons, four of which struck Blevins.

The case file shows that investigators recovered a spent casing fired from Blevins’ gun in the alley after the deadly shooting. Freeman reports that it was never determined if that bullet was in fact aimed at the pair of MPD officers, but he insists it’s not relevant given the circumstances.

“There’s a guy walking around shooting off his gun and he looks intoxicated - not safe around here,” Freeman told Fox 9.

Charging decision announcement interrupted

Protesters interrupted a news conference at which Freeman was scheduled to announce a charging decision. Freeman didn’t get to his analysis or decision in the case before community activists and the Blevins family took control of the podium.

Freeman exited the room after his words were drowned out by the shouting of a group gathered in the back of the room. Freeman delayed his news conference about 10 minutes to wait for the Blevins family to arrive.

Freeman’s news conference came moments after Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll said Blevins pointed a gun in the direction of officers and fired a shot into the pavement before he was shot and killed. Kroll said officers Justin Schmidt and Ryan Kelly “were forced to fire at the suspect only after he pointed a gun and fired at the officers.”

Kroll said the shot fired by Blevins was captured on Minneapolis police body-worn camera footage released Sunday night. He couldn’t point to the exact moment in the video that he says Blevins fired a shot, but said the bullet hit the pavement. Kroll said a casing was recovered and “that will come out in the investigation.”

“At that point, he’s fair game,” Kroll said.  

The Minneapolis Police Department released the officer body camera videos of the June 23 shooting Sunday night. The videos from the body-worn cameras of Officer Justin Schmidt and Officer Ryan Kelly show the shooting death of Thurman Blevins in a north Minneapolis alley. The footage appears to show the officers chasing Blevins before shooting and killing him. The videos also show Blevins was carrying a firearm at the time of his death. 

Last week, Freeman told MinnPost that he will not convene a grand jury to make a charging decision, adding “I will make that decision. That’s my job.” Freeman decided to not use a grand jury in the police shooting of Jamar Clark and did not convene a grand jury in the charging of Officer Mohamed Noor in the police shooting of Justine Damond. Freeman did use a an investigative grand jury in the case of Officer Noor to get the testimony of other officers.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo released a statement, saying he accepts and respects Freeman's decision not to charge the two officers.

"As this case still remains under internal investigation, the Minneapolis Police Department is unable to publicly comment on any facet of this incident," the MPD statement said. "While Chief Arradondo is currently prohibited by data practice law from commenting on the specifics of this case he will continue to remain engaged, active and listen throughout the community. After completion of the criminal and internal investigation, Chief Arradondo will be able to speak about the case. We thank you for your continued patience in this matter."

North Minneapolis Representatives Fue Lee (DFL - Minneapolis) and Rayomnd Dehn (DFL – Minneapolis), and State Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL – Minneapolis) released the following joint statement:

“As the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension [BCA] and other law enforcement continue their investigation, we encourage them to continue engaging with the Northside community and to use every tool available to bring justice. We need to know exactly what transpired to improve the safety of our community and to put an end to deaths by police action. The videos show a very tragic and traumatic incident. Our community needs to heal and we all should respect each other’s need for the time and space to heal. While our community seeks healing for the family, ourselves and our neighbors, we can’t forget that we can and must do better. 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. It seems that officers choose other options with white suspects than they do with suspects of color, and we must change that. Our hearts are with the family of Thurman Blevins, and we want community members and the family to know we are available to hear the thoughts and feelings on their hearts as they seek justice for their loved one during this very difficult time. As Legislators, we will continue looking comprehensively at our state laws and use-of-force policies to keep both our communities of color and police officers safe.”

Protest planned

According to the Justice for Thurman Blevins Facebook page, a protest is planned for Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Hennepin County Government Center. 

The shooting

According to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Investigation, Thurman Blevins was sitting on a curb and immediately fled when officers pulled up. Police reported he was carrying a gun at the time. 

Sometime during the ensuing chase officers fired their weapons, striking and killing the man community members later identified as Thurman Blevins. The chase lasted for several blocks and Blevins was pronounced dead at the scene.

According to authorities, the incident began when an anonymous caller reported a man was walking around with a gun on the 4700 block of Bryant Avenue North. The caller "provided very detailed information about the appearance and descriptions," according to an MPD spokesperson.

Police then received a second call of a person walking and firing a silver 9mm handgun into the air and subsequently into the ground.

Blevins was reportedly sitting with another woman near the intersection of 48th and Camden Avenues North a short time later when officers arrived, and ran away as they began exiting their vehicles. 

Both officers involved in the incident have been placed on standard administrative leave. The shooting remains under investigation.