Deputies who fatally shot a man on the top floor of a parking garage in Minneapolis last week will not be identified because they were working undercover and are protected under Minnesota law, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Wednesday.
The statute the BCA cited in its news release stipulates law enforcement "shall withhold public access to data" if it would reveal the identity of an undercover law enforcement officer. The agency also said it does not have any video footage of the incident.
Two deputies, one from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office and another from the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, shot Winston Smith Jr. on June 3 while under direction of a federal task force.
Minnesota's public records law isn't the only one that keeps undercover officers' names confidential.
"Many, many states" have this type of exemption, said Jane Kirtley, a professor of media law and ethics at the University of Minnesota. Law enforcement agencies exercise some discretion over whether the value of making the information public outweighs the value of keeping it confidential.
In the case of undercover officers, blowing their covers is a threat to the agency's security, she said.
"It's pretty straightforward: If you blow the cover of an undercover officer, that individual is never going to be able to operate as an undercover officer again," Kirtley said.
Kirtley would not speculate about whether the BCA is using the undercover identities exemption as a pretext to keep the names confidential. She did acknowledge that Minnesota's public records law skews toward protecting officers' personal privacy rather than putting public interest first.
This makes it even more unlikely that the BCA will elect to release the names.
"It's a shame that there's that level of distrust in the police," Kirtley said. "I think it's built up over years when the feeling was that they were opportunistic in their invocation of the [public records] exemptions."
Authorities say Smith, 32, of Minneapolis, fired a gun from his vehicle as the task force tried to arrest him on a warrant from Ramsey County for being a felon in possession of a gun.
The deputies were working as part of the U.S. Marshals Service's North Star Fugitive Task Force.
Following the shooting in the Uptown neighborhood, sheriff's offices in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties announced they were suspending their participation in the federal task force because it prohibited body cameras from being used by deputies.
The Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said Smith died of multiple gunshot wounds.
The shooting sparked days of protests in a city wrought with pain over the police killing of George Floyd last year and the conviction of a former Minneapolis officer for murder.
In a separate case, the BCA identified an officer who shot a man in the leg on June 5. Metro Transit Police officer John Steele is being investigated for use of potentially deadly force against Kevion Jamal Gibbs, 23, of West Point, Miss., according to another BCA news release. The investigation is ongoing.
In that case, Metro Transit officers pursued Gibbs on foot after they witnessed the shooting of Deandre Intonio Smith, 33, of Minneapolis, according to the release. Steele shot Gibbs in the leg, the release said. Gibbs was taken to HCMC for treatment and then taken to the Hennepin County jail.
Gibbs was charged in Hennepin County District Court with second-degree intentional murder in connection to Deandre Smith's death. The shooting followed an argument among people leaving a bar.