St. Paul officials pledged Tuesday to expedite the release of body camera footage and 911 audio in last weekend’s fatal police shooting of William Hughes, with Police Chief Todd Axtell saying video could be made public within two weeks.
Mayor Melvin Carter said at an afternoon news conference that he wanted the data released after all witnesses, including officers involved, provide a statement, and after it is privately played for Hughes’ family. After those criteria are met, he said, “It would be difficult to find a rationale where that would be compromising the integrity of the investigation.”
Axtell issued a written statement soon after Carter’s news conference, pledging to release the video within the next 10 days after Hughes’ family first sees the footage.
“I have also heard the clarion calls for the release of the body worn camera video,” Axtell said. “I understand the requests, whether altruistic in nature or a desperate search for something, anything, that will help us all find the truth and make sense of what has occurred.”
The mayor and chief have met numerous times since the shooting Sunday to discuss the incident and “how to balance the public’s need for answers with the integrity of the investigation,” Axtell said.
Minnesota law allows an agency to release evidence during an active investigation if doing so will aid law enforcement, promote public safety or quell rumor and unrest, Carter said in making his case.
The mayor added that the videos are the city’s property.
Police Chief Todd Axtell
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is investigating the shooting, and the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office have both historically resisted releasing such videos until after the completion of an investigation and after a charging decision is made by the county attorney’s office.
The BCA issued a statement that did not address Carter and Axtell’s pledge to release the videos, and held firm to its prior practices.
“While we can’t speak for St. Paul, the BCA will release all public data once the case is closed as we would in any other investigation in accordance with Minnesota law,” said the BCA statement.
Investigators continue to conduct interviews and analyze data in the case, the BCA said.
“While the release of this data will not provide all the answers we are seeking, it will provide more information about the tragic circumstances that led to this outcome,” Carter said. “Without question, our city has experienced trauma and tragedy this week. My heart goes out to Mr. Hughes’ family and the men and women of the St. Paul Police Department.”
The BCA identified the two officers who shot and killed Hughes Sunday in St. Paul’s Summit-University neighborhood as Matthew Jones and Vincent Adams.
Both officers have been with the department for five years and have been placed on standard administrative leave as the BCA investigates what led the officers to fire their weapons and fatally wound Hughes, 43. He died of gunshot wounds, the Ramsey County medical examiner’s office said.
The officers were responding to a 911 call of shots fired in an apartment around 2:30 a.m. Sunday on the 900 block of St. Anthony Avenue.
According to the BCA’s preliminary investigation, the officers entered an enclosed porch and knocked on one of two interior doors leading to the apartment. Hughes came out the other door. At one point the officers discharged their firearms, striking Hughes.
Hughes was pronounced dead at the scene. BCA investigators later recovered a gun at the scene.
“This is an open and active investigation and the BCA continues to conduct interviews and analyze evidence to determine the facts of the incident,” the statement said.
When the investigation is complete, the BCA will turn its findings over without recommendation to the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office for review.
The BCA asked anybody who saw or captured the shooting on video to call 651-793-7000.
About 100 protestors stood outside the St. Paul Police Western District building Tuesday evening, demanding details about the shooting.
Hughes was an innocent man who was gunned down when he answered the door, Sue Goodstar told the crowd. “We want justice,” she shouted.
Marques Armstrong, an organizer with the Racial Justice Network, stood amid signs painted with the names of other men killed by police. “I’m standing up for all the lost ones,” he told the crowd.
A cousin of Hughes, Philip Quinn, was fatally shot by a St. Paul officer nearly four years ago. Investigators said Quinn was schizophrenic and suicidal when he charged the officer with a screwdriver. A grand jury cleared the officers involved.
Hughes was the third person in the Twin Cities to die this year after being shot by police. His shooting came less than a week after the release of body camera footage of the June 23 fatal police shooting of Thurman Blevins by two Minneapolis police officers. Hours after the release, Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced that he wouldn’t charge the officers in the case.
According to their personnel files, Adams received one oral reprimand for causing a minor squad car accident. He was nominated in 2016 for Officer of the Year and last year received a medal of commendation for his work on improving neighborhoods’ quality of life after he was placed on light duty for an injury he received apprehending a suspect. Jones has no disciplinary history, and his file includes letters of appreciation from his supervisors for finding fingerprints and showing compassion to a grieving family.
Jones’ father was Tim Jones, one of two St. Paul police officers who were killed while on duty in August 1994. The elder Jones was responding to a report of someone sleeping in a car in a church parking lot. He and his K-9 partner, Laser, were shot while searching for whoever killed officer Ron Ryan Jr. that same day.
Staff writers Paul Walsh and Mary Lynn Smith contributed to this report.