Analysis: What police, the city and witnesses are saying about the police killing of Thurman Blevins

State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion reacts on the WCCO Morning News

Jared Goyette
June 24, 2018 - 6:12 am

Jared Goyette, WCCO Radio

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A black man was shot and killed by police officers Saturday night in north Minneapolis following a foot chase.

Police say the man, since identified by relatives and the NAACP as 31-year-old Thurman Blevins, was armed with a handgun, but some witnesses dispute that account and say he was shot in the back as he was running away.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Police Chief Medaria Arradondo held a joint press conference late Saturday to address the shooting, but avoided releasing information about the crucial moments between when officers encountered Blevins and when an officer or officers pulled the trigger.

Instead, Frey and Arradondo repeatedly deferred questions to the agency that investigates police shootings, the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

"Right now, because obviously, this is a BCA investigation, any particular details about how this situation unfolded, we’d have to leave that to the BCA to respond to that," Arradondo said.

In his statement, Frey said the “involved officers’ body cameras were on and activated.” Ultimately, many questions about how this shooting transpired may be answered once (or if) the BCA releases that footage. But, based on what we know so far, here’s a rundown of the versions of events provided so far: 

What police and the mayor have said

- At 5:26 pm an anonymous 911 caller stated that an adult male was walking in the area of the 4700 block of Bryant Ave., North shooting off a handgun into the air and into the ground. They said the caller "provided a very detailed description of the suspect and his clothing."

- A second call to 911 stated that the suspect was shooting a silver 9mm handgun.

- “Officers arrived in the area and encountered the suspect. A foot chase ensued that ended in shots being fired. The armed suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.”

What witnesses have said

So far, three people have spoken to media saying they directly witnessed the shooting: James Lark, who spoke to most media present, while the StarTribune had accounts from to additional witness: Katya Kelly, who it said was the sister of Blevins’ girlfriend, and Eva Watson.

James Lark

Lark said he was walking up Camden street when he saw police drive up to Blevins.

“He was drinking a cup with some green liquid in it. Him, his woman and the newborn baby in a black stroller,” Lark said.

Lark said the squad car “swung around with both doors open,” and that officers got out with guns raising, yelling  “Don’t f-cking move.”

Lark saw Blevins stand up, when officers tased him. Then, Lark said, “Blevins broke out running.” Shortly, afterward, he heard a series of gunshots.

Lark said he never saw Blevins with a gun, and that he didn't see him act in a threatening manner toward police.

“No sir, I didn't see him get aggressive. Looked like he was drunk,” Lark said.

Eva Watson

The Star Tribune quoted another witness, Eva Watson. She, like Lark, said Blevins was drinking (an Amsterdam vodka bottle), and with his girlfriend by the curb, next to a baby stroller, when officers drove up.

Watson told the Star Tribune that officers yelled at Blevins to put his hands up, and when he started to do so, they tased him. Then, like Lark, she said Blevins started running.

She said she heard police tell him to stop, while he yelled “Don’t shoot!” the StarTribune reported.

Also, like Lark, Watson said she didn't see Blevins with a gun.

Katya Kelly

Kelly, the sister of Blevins’ girlfriend, also spoke to the Star Tribune. She also said that Blevins had been drinking from a bottle, and that police shot him as he ran away.

Reaction from Minneapolis lawmakers

Rep. Fue Lee (DFL, 59A)

“Yesterday there was another officer-involved shooting nearby resulting in the death of Thurman Blevins. It doesn't matter if the bullets are fired with intent to harm, by accident, or by a sworn officer in the line of duty – we need to address the trauma gun violence brings to our community. Please join me in urging patience from all, having kindness and understanding for each other and demanding a thorough and transparent investigation into another tragic loss of life.”

Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL, 59B)

“I am troubled and saddened that yesterday another young black man was shot and killed by Minneapolis Police. While we don’t have all the information of what transpired, as the investigation is ongoing, we do know our community has seen far too much pain and loss due to guns. It is obvious to many that what we are doing is not working, yet we must have the courage to challenge the systems that keep rendering these same results.”

State Sen. Bobby Joe Champion (DFL, 59)

“We are faced with another unfortunate police-involved shooting in north Minneapolis. It's my hope that we will search for and be serious about finding policies that will kept us safe and end the taking of lives. I call upon the BCA to investigate the matter and for MPD to review and modify existing policies that will protect all of us.”

What’s next

More information will come from the BCA, and any other witnesses who step forward.

Both Frey and  Arradondo said they would urge the BCA to release as much information as possible, as quickly as possible.

Frey suggested that he hopes the BCA will be quicker to release information in this case than it has with previous police shootings, but also made it clear that it wasn't’t ultimately his call

“We will be asking the BCA to be releasing every bit of information that they can, as timely as they can, so hopefully this will not be the scenario where we’re waiting for months on end for even a smidgen of fact. We want to get the facts out there as quickly as possible and I can’t speak to exactly when that will be,” he said.