Body camera footage released by St. Paul police Friday shows that William "Billy" Hughes answered the door to his darkened duplex and raised a handgun before officers fatally shot him earlier this month.
Police Chief Todd Axtell said he released the video amid calls for transparency in the wake of the Aug. 5 shooting, when police were called to Hughes' apartment for a report of shots fired.
"I have the duty to our community, I have the duty to protect the integrity of this investigation and I have the duty to make sure our officers are not put in harm's way due to misinformation being spread on our streets," Axtell said shortly before playing footage from officers Matthew Jones and Vincent Adams, who have since returned to duty.
Axtell released the two videos even as the case remains under investigation, and said his "greatest goal" is to establish enough infrastructure and resources at the department to release future videos within 72 hours.
The footage shows the officers walking up to the house in the 900 block of St. Anthony Avenue at 2:30 a.m. after a 911 caller told a dispatcher, "Multiple gunshots, 905 St. Anthony on the second floor."
They enter the enclosed front porch and briefly confer in the dark before knocking on the door to determine whether anyone had heard anything.
"I will kill you," a man is heard saying from the other side of the door.
"I just heard 'I will kill you,' " one of the officers says.
Hughes, 43, opens the door and walks onto the porch with a handgun in his right hand. The officers scream at him to put his hands in the air multiple times as he stands facing them. Hughes raises the gun into the air, the muzzle pointing at the officers briefly as the gun moves in an arc and comes to a rest pointing at the ceiling. The officers fire at him several times.
Hughes falls to the floor, the gun still in his hand.
"Goddammit," one of the officers exclaims as they report shots fired.
Axtell released the videos after viewing them earlier in the day with Hughes' family. He also waited until the BCA had interviewed all key witnesses.
The chief said Hughes' sister left behind a card for each of the officers. Hughes' family was saddened and "heartbroke," he said, but also shared stories about "his kind heart."
"I want to close today by saying to the family of Mr. Hughes, I am so sorry for your loss. To the officers and their families, I am sorry that this situation chose you, and your lives now will forever be altered," Axtell said. "And to our community, I hope these videos will provide context, perspective and clarity."
Hughes' family could not be reached for comment.
Mayor Melvin Carter issued a written statement commending Axtell for "setting a new bar for transparency."
"The body camera footage of Billy Hughes' death is heartbreaking," Carter said. "I extend my sincere condolences to the Hughes family, to every grieving member of our community, and to Officers Adams and Jones, who were called last week to respond to a situation no officer would ever hope to encounter."
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi, who has historically resisted releasing such videos during an active investigation, said his office is expediting the process of determining the legality of the officers' actions.
The county attorney's office is reviewing the case simultaneously as the BCA investigates, and is "receiving information from them daily," he said. Choi's office is also consulting an independent expert on use-of-force and police procedures.
"The death of William Hughes, captured on video, is difficult to watch," Choi said in a statement. "My heart goes out to Mr. Hughes' family and friends and the two police officers who were involved in this shooting."
St. Paul Police Federation President Dave Titus issued a statement that said the footage shows "professionalism and dedication to protecting innocent lives in our community."
"However, we also believe the department should not have released this video outside of the context of a complete and thorough investigation," he said. "The officers, family, and society deserve the complete story and not a piecemeal release of evidence."
Axtell and Carter both announced last week that the videos would be made public before the BCA completes its investigation. The move came after Hughes' family members, friends and supporters protested the previous night and demanded the release of footage, data from 911 calls and a third-party investigation into the shooting.
Search warrant affidavits filed earlier this week showed that the day he was killed, Hughes reportedly fell out of his "elevated bed," grew angry, fired two gunshots in the apartment and pointed the gun at his roommate's head.
Court documents also show that Hughes reportedly texted relatives this past spring that he had contemplated suicide. They explained that Hughes "had an ongoing medical condition that limited his quality of life. [Hughes'] medical condition was diagnosed as a terminal illness," the affidavits said.
Family members said Hughes was a member of the White Earth Nation, and a cousin to Philip Quinn, who was fatally shot by St. Paul police in 2015.