Thurman Blevins Jr. was shot multiple times by police when he was killed Saturday night following a foot chase in a north Minneapolis alley, according to an autopsy report by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner.
Blevins died at 5:35 p.m. of "multiple gunshot wounds" in the alley behind 4746 Bryant Ave. N., the report said. Witnesses said they heard several shots fired before Blevins was killed. Police say a handgun was found at the scene.
Hundreds mourned and protested over the weekend as the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension dug in to its investigation of the 31-year-old black man's death. Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, who appeared at a Sunday afternoon protest at the Fourth Precinct headquarters that drew about 300 people, and Mayor Jacob Frey, who attended an evening vigil near the shooting site that drew about 250, struggled to console and calm community members.
The two vowed that the investigation would be full, fair and transparent, stressing that the officers involved were wearing body cameras, and that the footage may hold some of the answers community members are demanding.
Their efforts to comfort did not always sit well. At the vigil, Frey walked away when a speaker took him to task for saying that Blevins had a gun. Several people then followed him, yelling, and a subsequent speaker referred to "fake politicians." Frey later said that he had to return to City Hall to finish some work.
At the earlier protest, Arradondo spent time talking to a small group until some complained that he was taking attention away from the event. He then stopped talking and just listened.
Police have said that 911 callers reported Blevins was firing a handgun into the air and ground, and the BCA said it recovered a handgun at the scene. But several witnesses said Blevins was carrying a bottle or cup and that they did not see a gun before he was fatally shot about 6 p.m. Saturday in the alley between Aldrich and Bryant avenues N. near 47th Avenue N.
Leslie Badue, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, and others, including 10 City Council members, called for swift release of the bodycam footage. In a news release Sunday night, the BCA offered no timeline for its release, saying it has yet to interview the two officers who fired shots.
At Sunday afternoon's protest, Rashaun Brown, Blevins' cousin, said his family had just experienced another tragedy — the death of Blevins' half-sister, Tanisha Willis, 46, who died of liver problems. Just blocks away from the protest, family and friends were gathered at a repast for Willis.
"The biggest thing is justice. We want the truth. Nobody's perfect, but he didn't deserve to go out like that," Brown said. "It really hurts. The biggest thing is, how do we explain this to his children?"
Blevins was the father of three daughters and two stepsons, he said. Junior, or Jun, as they called Blevins, was "funny, humble and motivational," Brown said.
Among others at the protest was state Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minneapolis, endorsed last week by the DFL to run for U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison's soon-to-be-vacated congressional seat. She sat quietly on a curb, listening to the speakers.
Ellison and his son Jeremiah, a Minneapolis City Council member, attended the evening vigil at the shooting site. Keith Ellison said he lives less than a mile away.
"We need a thorough investigation that is expeditious and reliable," the congressman said. "The level of trust is so low that more transparency and exposure has got to be part of [it]."
An ongoing heartache
Blevins was the 30th person killed by officers since the year 2000 in Minneapolis, according to a Star Tribune database. More than half of those killed have been black.
Like other police shootings, Blevins' death laid bare racial tensions in the city. Frey and Arradondo have both said that closing that gap and rebuilding community trust are cornerstones of their respective administrations. But both have conceded that doing so, while changing the department's internal culture, is a complicated task. The adoption of body cameras and enhanced training aimed at helping officers to recognize their own inherent prejudices and to police in a "procedurally just way" are critical first steps, officials say.
Sam Sanchez of the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar said Arradondo's promises of reform ring hollow.
"They want to make us think that something has changed, but it hasn't," he said, pointing to several recent controversies surrounding the department, including a draft report that surfaced earlier this month saying that city police were directing paramedics to sedate people using the powerful tranquilizer ketamine.
Jeremiah Ellison, who spent Saturday night at the scene, said that he has noticed some "fatigue" in the police reform movement. Where even a year ago, he said, police violence sparked protests in Minneapolis, recent shootings have been met with a certain resignation.
"I hope people aren't losing their resolve, but I think there is fatigue," he said.
He added that while data may show that police use of force is declining, in many cases citizen reaction to such shootings stems from lingering trauma. "Look, whenever guns are involved and whenever people feel like violence is a factor in their lives, there's going to be a strong reaction, even if it happens less," he said.
Accounts at odds
In the hours after the shooting, competing narratives emerged.
According to police, just before 5:30 p.m. Saturday, at least two people called 911 to report that a man walking in the 4700 block of Bryant Avenue N. was firing a 9mm handgun into the air and ground.
But several witnesses said that they did not see a weapon and that Blevins ran away after police tried to use a Taser on him. He was running from police when he was shot, witnesses said.
Ivan Deloya, 16, said he watched the scene unfold from his front yard. He said he had been chatting with Blevins, whom he's known for "a couple years." Minutes later, he said he saw Blevins running west on 48th, a bottle in one hand, with two officers in pursuit. The three disappeared into the alley between Aldrich and Bryant. "I could see him running as fast as he could, screaming, 'I don't have a gun,' " Deloya said. "He only had a bottle in his hands."
He recalled hearing close to a dozen shots fired.
Ebony Walker, who lives across the street from the shooting scene, said she heard Blevins yelling, "I didn't do anything! I don't have anything!" in the alley.
Police union head Lt. Bob Kroll said he hasn't seen the body camera footage but has spoken with the officers' attorney, Kevin Short. "This is nothing short of heroic activity," he said, adding that the officers gave Blevins "numerous commands" to drop his weapon before they fired. Neither officer used a Taser, he said, referring to several "false narratives."
The officers are "traumatized," he said. "Obviously no one in this line of work ever wants to be involved in something like this."
On Saturday night, Deputy Police Chief Art Knight waded through the crowd. Several people pressed him on how the department intends to restore public trust. "Is every cop perfect? No," Knight said, pointing out that three officers have been fired this year for misconduct.
Knight said he hopes Minneapolis will follow the lead of other departments around the country by swiftly releasing bodycam footage. "I would love for that information to get out," he said. "We have a lot of the narrative out there that we'd like to clarify."
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