The circumstances surrounding Winston Boogie Smith Jr.’s death in June are still fuzzy, but that doesn’t matter to the Crow Wing County Attorney’s Office, which announced that the officers involved wouldn’t be charged on Monday.
Smith was fatally shot by members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force on June 3 in Minneapolis, the same city where George Floyd was killed last year. The officers’ body cameras weren’t on to capture the shooting, but they claim Smith drew a handgun on them while he was sitting in his parked SUV at a local parking ramp. However, a witness in the car claims that Smith was only pulling out his phone to record the officers when they shot him multiple times. She also said that she never saw a gun on Smith or in the vehicle.
According to NBC affiliate KARE 11, Crow Wing County Attorney Don Ryan sent a letter with his recommendation to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman. Ryan reviewed the case because prosecutors in the Twin Cities area had conflicts of interest.
In his letter, Ryan wrote that the task force members were justified for using deadly force while trying to detain Smith on a warrant for a felony firearms violation. The officers claimed that he refused to comply with orders and even looked annoyed when they attempted to break his window, KARE reports. Ryan said a handgun and six spent cartridge cases from the weapon were found inside the vehicle.
Here’s more from that letter, according to ABC News:
Ryan said task force members were identifiable as law enforcement, told Smith he was under arrest and ordered him out of the vehicle. Ryan said Smith didn’t comply and as task force members tried to enter the SUV, “Smith initiated a deadly force confrontation ... by drawing his handgun and firing.”
“Though I am unable to determine who fired first, it is irrelevant in this case,” Ryan wrote. “Once an individual initiates a deadly force confrontation, a law enforcement officer does not have to wait to be shot/shot at before reacting.” He said task force members’ actions were reasonable, justified and “in response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm.”
This is a reminder that authorities said there wasn’t any body camera footage. The confrontation wasn’t captured on any surveillance cameras in the area either.
ABC reports that the officers are not named because they were working undercover, but among those who shot Smith are a Ramsey County Sheriff’s deputy and a Hennepin County Sheriff’s deputy. Strangely, U.S. Marshals ordered members of the task force not to have their body cameras on, despite a law passed in October 2020 allowing the cameras to be on.
The woman who was in the car with Smith, Norhan Askar, said the officers did not identify themselves as they surrounded the car, KARE reports.
Now, remember when I said that there wasn’t any body camera footage? Read this from ABC:
But Ryan wrote that there is body camera footage of Askar, recorded immediately after the shooting. Ryan said Askar said in the video it “happened really fast where a bunch of officers came out of nowhere” and told them to put their hands up. In the video, described by Ryan, Askar said she put her hands up and pleaded with Smith to do the same, but Smith would not, saying he did not want to go back to jail and he was “going to die.”
I just find it noteworthy that the only footage we do have, which according to KARE is from responding Minneapolis police officers, captures a distraught woman who just witnessed someone die in front of her. Askar filed a lawsuit accusing the task force members of emotionally traumatizing her and violating her civil rights. She is seeking $15 million and will file a federal claim if there’s no resolution in six months, KARE reports.