Minneapolis police body-camera video released Sunday night shows officers repeatedly warning an armed Thurman Blevins to put his hands up as they chased him through a North Side residential neighborhood last month and then fatally shot him in an alley.
The dramatic imagery, slowed down and stabilized by a California forensic video firm, shows the 31-year-old Blevins with a handgun and running from police. The video appears to show the gun in Blevins’ hand shortly before shots were fired.
The release of the video so soon after the shooting comes as police departments in the Twin Cities and beyond cope with public backlash over the shooting of men of color during encounters with officers. In this and other shootings, activists have demanded rapid release of police bodycam video, believing the images will reveal that officers are too quick to shoot suspects.
The death of Blevins, who was black, at the hands of white officers in a residential alley in the 4700 block between Aldrich and Bryant avenues N. sparked tensions and protests, as have police killings of other black men in recent years in the Twin Cities.
In the footage, the officers who pursued Blevins late in the afternoon on June 23 sound somewhat calm as they drive quickly toward the scene, responding to a 911 call about a man firing a gun. They pull up to Blevins and immediately notice the gun tucked in his shorts. He stands up and runs.
Officer Justin Schmidt gets out of the squad and says, “Put your [expletive] hands up now!”
Blevins, who also appears to be holding a liquor bottle, sprints down the street as Schmidt continues to order the man to put his hands up.
“I will [expletive] shoot you!” Schmidt yells while in a footrace with Blevins.
“Put your [expletive] hands up!” the officers repeat, telling Blevins to stop as he sprints down the street.
“I will [expletive] shoot you!” Schmidt says as the chase continues.
“What? C’mon man!” Blevins repeats as he continues running. “I didn’t do nothing, bro.”
“You’ve got a gun, [expletive]!” Schmidt says as Blevins protests. “Yes you do!” Schmidt says. “Put it down! I will [expletive] shoot you!”
“Please don’t shoot me!” Blevins says, still running.
“Put your hands up!” Schmidt says.
“Leave me alone!” Blevins responds.
The slowed-down video then shows a flash of silver in Blevins’ right hand just as shots are fired, with another glimpse of the firearm in his hand as he falls to the ground.
Less than 45 seconds into the foot chase, and after more than a dozen shots are fired by both officers, Blevins goes down in the alley faceup, a handgun to his right. The officers keep their guns trained on Blevins, and more officers arrive and an ambulance is called.
“Shots fired! Shots fired! One down,” officer Ryan Kelly says, calling for an ambulance.
Sydnee Brown, a cousin of Blevins, said Sunday night that family members were shown the video before public release and it confirms her belief that he was not a threat to police.
“He didn’t deserve to die,” Brown said. “He wasn’t a threat when [the officers] approached him. They didn’t view him as a human being.”
The family was being represented by Glenda Hatchett, a former nationally known TV attorney who represented Philando Castile’s family after he was fatally shot by police two years ago in Falcon Heights. But Hatchett said late Sunday night she was no longer representing the family; it was not immediately known who was.
In a news conference Sunday night, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said he first reviewed the raw footage on the night of the shooting, and he reviewed the edited version Sunday. He called the footage “traumatic” but chose to otherwise not comment about what it showed.
Later in a telephone interview, Frey said he hopes everyone who lives and works in the city “should acknowledge that we’re all bound by a shared humanity. … We should listen to one another.”
The mayor said to reporters that he “thought a great deal about the ramifications” of releasing the video at such an early point amid the investigation by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA). “Just over 30 days have passed since the shooting took place. This is an unprecedented timeline, but in that timeline we needed to act with full transparency and making sure we’re honest, even if the truth is difficult.”
Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said in a statement he could not comment on the video but “he will continue to remain engaged, active and listen throughout the community.”
In response to calls from citizens and all 13 City Council members, Frey said on July 20 that he would release the video by month’s end. That decision came after he met with Blevins’ family members, who in turn protested outside the mayor’s office and demanded the video’s immediate release.
Frey said three days later he would have police release the video from body cameras after the family was consulted and key witnesses were interviewed by the BCA, which is investigating the shooting.
The officers — Kelly, hired by the department in October 2013, and Schmidt, hired in July 2014 — are on standard paid administrative leave.
While Blevins’ relatives and several witnesses have said he had only a bottle in his hand and was running from police before the shooting, Lt. Bob Kroll, president of the Minneapolis Police Officers Federation, countered that the shooting was “nothing short of heroic activity.” Kroll said the officers gave Blevins “numerous commands” to drop his weapon before they fired. Kroll said the union would have more to say Monday at a 10 a.m. news conference.
A transcript of the 911 call was released by the city four weeks ago revealing that the caller pleaded with the dispatcher to send help because a man with a bottle of liquor was firing a handgun in the air and into the ground.
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.
Staff writers Suzanne Ziegler and Miguel Otárola contributed to this report.