As calls continued Monday for the release of body camera footage from the Saturday police shooting of a black man in Minneapolis, sources say that a handgun was discovered next to his body.
Activists and North Side residents continued to mourn Thurman Junior Blevins on Monday, while all 13 members of the City Council called on the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to release all related evidence, including bodycam footage, “as soon as legally possible.”
“We, too, have many questions and call for full transparency about what took place before and what led to this tragedy. Expediency and integrity are key to transparency and building trust,” they said in a statement.
Blevins, 31, died at 5:35 p.m. of “multiple gunshot wounds” in the alley behind 4746 Bryant Av. N., according to the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office. Witnesses said they heard a series of shots before Blevins was killed.
A police department source told the Star Tribune that two officers fired, and a handgun was lying next to Blevins’ hand. Police recovered two different sets of shell casings at the scene, indicating that both officers fired their weapons. At least one of the officers activated his body camera.
Two sources identified the officers as Ryan Kelly, who was hired by the department in October 2013, and Justin Schmidt, hired in July 2014. Both are on standard paid administrative leave. Police spokesman John Elder declined to comment Monday, saying it would be inappropriate to do so before the officers’ names are released by the BCA, the agency handling the investigation.
Kelly, who has degrees from North Hennepin Community College and Concordia University in St. Paul, joined the department in 2013 after a brief stint with the Lower Sioux Police Department on the Minnesota-South Dakota border. He received the Lifesaving Award in 2015. After completing his field training, he was assigned to the night shift in the Fifth Precinct before moving to days in 2014 in the Fourth, where he has worked since.
Schmidt also spent time in the Fifth Precinct, working bike patrol in the Whittier neighborhood, before being reassigned to north Minneapolis. In 2016, he received the Chief’s Award of Merit. Schmidt is also an employee of Minneapolis-based Archway Defense, a business that provides security training for law enforcement and the military along with businesses and churches. In his biography, Schmidt is described as a military veteran who has worked in defense training since 2007 and is “now employed as a Law Enforcement Officer (LEO) for a large metropolitan department.”
Archway Defense has since removed Schmidt’s photos from its website and changed his name from “Justin” to “Jason” there and on social media. The organization tweeted on Monday in defense of Minneapolis police.
“Wasn’t the department asked by the community members who dialed 911 to show up? Two residents in that community called concerned about someone shooting a gun off in their neighborhood,” the tweet read.
Archway founder Peter Johnson declined to comment about Schmidt but said in a statement that Archway “is focused on creating a paradigm shift in the way defense training is conducted.”
“I will say that on a personal level, it’s sad to see a continued media bias against law enforcement nationwide,” the statement read.
Four 911 calls
Since the shooting, a complex portrait of Blevins has begun to emerge. Rashaun Brown, his cousin, said Blevins was the father of three daughters and two stepsons and called him “funny, humble and motivational.”
Jerome Peters, a friend of Blevins’ who slept overnight beside a growing street memorial near the shooting, also spoke well of the man he knew by the nickname Jun — short for Junior.
“Jun used to wear collared shirts all of the time, and he was always looking out for the kids, and look at what they did to him,” Peters said.
Katya Kelly, the sister of Blevins’ girlfriend, said Blevins and his girlfriend had been drinking and that he had a bottle in his hand as the two walked to Kelly’s house.
Katya Kelly said officers shot Blevins as he ran from them.
Police confronted Blevins and told him not to move, said James Lark, recounting what he saw. Officers then used a Taser on Blevins, who tried to run away, people in the neighborhood said. That’s when shots rang out. Minneapolis Police Federation President Bob Kroll said a Taser was not used, referring to several “false narratives.”
Court records show that Blevins had several criminal convictions over the past decade. He was convicted in 2010 of being a felon in possession of a firearm and of fleeing Minneapolis police in 2008 and 2012. He also pleaded guilty in 2015 to one count of fourth-degree assault for spitting at and kicking a Minneapolis Park Police officer. A minor drug possession charge was dismissed June 8.
Dispatchers relayed information from four 911 calls to the officers before they encountered Blevins. The first two calls were about a man with a handgun described as a silver 9mm. The third call gave a specific description of the man’s age, height and clothing. The last call said the man was shooting his gun into the ground and air, the department source said.
On scanner audio, a dispatcher describes “an intoxicated male walking around shooting a gun in the air” at 46th and Lyndale avenues N. The gun was described as a silver 9mm with chrome at the top.
When squads arrived a short time later, one of the officers radioed that he was running after the suspect.
“Chasing one, 48th-Aldrich, westbound, man has a gun,” the officer said over the radio. Shortly afterward: “Shots fired, shots fired, one down,” he said, “calling for medics.”
Inquiry is in BCA’s hands
More than 48 hours after the shooting, city and police leaders struggled to console and calm community members, while urging transparency.
Council Member Phillipe Cunningham said that after such incidents, minority communities face the added burden of historical trauma from past injustices. He and some of his colleagues were urging the BCA to release the body footage as soon as possible “because transparency and expediency really matters in terms of building trust with the community.”
In a statement, Mayor Jacob Frey urged a “thorough and transparent” investigation by the BCA.
“Additionally, we understand there is pain and trauma that some in our communities are experiencing and have asked that the BCA release information as soon as they possibly can while protecting the integrity and process of the investigation.”
BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira did not immediately comment on whether the agency would release the bodycam footage.
Late Monday, the well-wishers, activists and TV cameras had long since gone home, but Peters stood sentinel at the makeshift memorial where his friend Blevins died.
The memorial consisted of liquor bottles, cellphones, cash, candles and a purple Vikings jersey signed by his supporters.
Peters said he hoped the killing would prod people into action.
“Me knowing his spirit, he’s not upset because of what happened; he’s upset if we let it continue to happen,” he said.
Staff writers Chao Xiong, Andy Mannix, Mukhtar Ibrahim and Rochelle Olson contributed to this report.