Questions linger in fatal shooting

Black man’s death prompts call for probe

- N’dea Yancey-Bragg Contributi­ng: Christine Fernando, Tami Abdollahan­d Uriel J. Garcia, USA TODAY; Simone Weichselba­um and Sachi McClendon, The Marshall Project; The Associated Press

Activists in Minneapoli­s are calling for the U.S. Marshal for the District of Minnesota to be fired and an investigat­ion into the fatal shooting of Winston Smith Jr., which sparked several days of protests and renewed scrutiny of the body camera policy for federal agents.

Local activist groups have demanded Ramona Dohman step down as head of the U.S. Marshals Service in the state and protested outside her home Tuesday. Dohman, a 37-year law enforcemen­t veteran, was nominated by President Donald Trump and sworn in June 2019.

“The system in this state is fundamenta­lly flawed, and the federal oversight is also fundamenta­lly flawed,” said Jaylani Hussein, executive director for Minnesota’s Council on American-Islamic Relations, at a news conference Tuesday. “We need transparen­cy and accountabi­lity.”

Smith, a 32-year-old Black father of three, was fatally shot when officers on a U.S. Marshals Service task force tried to arrest him on a warrant for illegal possession of a firearm, according to the agency. Smith “failed to comply with officers’ commands” and “produced a handgun resulting in task force members firing upon the subject.”

Two sheriff’s deputies – one from Hennepin County and one from Ramsey County – shot Smith, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensi­on. State investigat­ors said a handgun and spent cartridge found inside the car indicate Smith fired his gun.

Demonstrat­ors have been protesting in Minneapoli­s almost every day after Smith was killed. The city has been on edge since the murder of George Floyd last year by a former Minneapoli­s police officer and the fatal police shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright in nearby Brooklyn Center in April.

Monique Cullars-Doty, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minnesota, called the task force’s actions “completely reckless” and said not using body cameras was “an intentiona­l lack of transparen­cy and an intentiona­l lack of accountabi­lity.”

Why is there no body camera footage?

No video footage of the incident has been released. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehensi­on said there is no squad camera footage of the shooting, and the U.S. Marshals Service does not allow body cameras for officers on this task force.

The marshals service said that while deputy marshals do not yet wear body cameras, the Justice Department permits state, local and tribal task force officers to do so. In October, the Department of Justice approved the use of body cameras for officers serving on federal task forces.

The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office issued a body camera to one of the deputies involved in the shooting, but sheriff’s officials were told it could not be used while the deputy was working on task force operations, according to a department spokespers­on.

Meanwhile, U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced Monday federal agents would be required to wear body cameras when executing search warrants. She also ordered they release the footage in a timely manner in the event of “serious bodily injury or death.”

The U.S. Marshals Service, FBI, Drug Enforcemen­t Administra­tion, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will have 30 days to draft policies that meet the new requiremen­ts, Monaco said in a memo.

But there is still confusion about the process for local task force officers and the length of time it will take to actually allow them to be worn in the field.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said Monday that the day after Smith’s death, he received an addendum from the Marshals Office that he believed would allow the use of body cameras.

Fletcher said he was later told by Dohman “it could take a while for this to get approved” and deputies were still not allowed to use body cameras.

A spokespers­on at Dohman’s office said she would not comment and directed all questions to the U.S. Marshals headquarte­rs.

Monday, Fletcher barred his deputies from participat­ing in the U.S. Marshals North Star Fugitive Task Force “until body cameras are actually authorized.”

In nearby jurisdicti­ons, Anoka County Sheriff James Stuart and Hennepin County Sheriff Dave Hutchinson followed suit and announced they’re suspending work by their deputies with the task force.

Other local police department­s have refused to join task forces altogether because of the body camera issue.

The Minneapoli­s Police department does not participat­e in any task forces where officers are not allowed to use their body cameras, spokesman John Elder said.

St. Paul police officers stopped participat­ing in the fugitive task force in 2019 because police chief Todd Axtell was unwilling to “give up that necessary tool of transparen­cy.”

Body cameras are supposed to enable the public to see what happened when someone is killed by police. This doesn’t always happen because police department­s often get to decide what the public sees and when, experts said.

For those who “thought body-worn cameras were to catch bad officers and prove bad conduct, I think they have been largely disappoint­ed,” said Scott Greenwood, an attorney.

Although Marshals and task force members are more likely to use their guns, they are harder to hold accountabl­e than average cops if something goes wrong, an investigat­ion by The Marshall Project and the USA TODAY Network found.

 ?? PROVIDED BY CARLOS GONZALEZ ?? Protesters demonstrat­e outside of the home of U.S. Marshal Ramona Dohman on Tuesday in Minneapoli­s, over the fatal shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr., the week before.
PROVIDED BY CARLOS GONZALEZ Protesters demonstrat­e outside of the home of U.S. Marshal Ramona Dohman on Tuesday in Minneapoli­s, over the fatal shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr., the week before.

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