Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said Monday that he's pulling his agency from a federal task force whose members shot and killed Winston Smith Jr. during an arrest operation in Uptown Minneapolis last week, saying they were forbidden to use body-worn cameras during the encounter and that the U.S. Marshals Service "has been misleading" in public comments suggesting otherwise.
The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of the lack of any known video of the encounter, whether from body cameras, squad-car dash cameras or parking ramp surveillance where the arrest occurred.
Smith, 32, of Minneapolis, was killed Thursday afternoon; authorities say he fired a gun from his vehicle as the task force attempted to arrest him on a warrant from Ramsey County for being a felon in possession of a gun. A preliminary investigation shows that a Hennepin County sheriff's deputy and a Ramsey County deputy shot Smith while under the direction of the U.S. Marshals Service's Northstar Violent Offender Task Force.
The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office initially said Monday that it would now have its members equipped with body-worn cameras while on these federal assignments. But in a follow-up statement later Monday, Fletcher said the federal agency "has been misleading in their public comments to the media."
"In Minnesota, the Marshals office has refused to allow us to wear body cameras since the advent of the technology, and any new policy has not been implemented," he said.
Fletcher said local law enforcement has made many requests to use the technology only to be denied. He said he was denied a request as recently as May 25 for his deputies to use body cameras on the task force, and that U.S. officials said they were "working on the problem."
U.S. officials said that since February they've been phasing in a policy allowing local law enforcement agencies to wear operating body cameras during federal task force operations. But Fletcher said the policy didn't shift until Friday, the day after Smith was killed.
"However, much to my surprise, I received a voice mail [Monday] from U.S. Marshal Mona Dohman, in which she explains, 'It could take awhile for this to be approved ... so, your deputies still won't be allowed to use their body cameras ... until the onboarding process goes on,' " Fletcher said in a statement. "As a result of her voice mail, I have made the decision that Ramsey County Sheriff's Deputies will not participate with the Marshals Fugitive Task Force until body cameras are actually authorized."
Messages left for Dohman and U.S. Marshals Service spokespeople were not immediately returned.
The Hennepin County Sheriff's Office indicated Monday it received newly added language for consideration of amending its agreement with the task force.
"We're reviewing language that would allow anyone assigned from our office to the task force to wear a body-worn camera," said Hennepin County Sheriff's Office spokesman Andy Skoogman.
Meanwhile, Minnestota Rep. Sydney Jordan, DFL-Minneapolis, was briefed by state officials over the weekend and learned that Gov. Tim Walz's office was in contact with the White House and the U.S. Justice Department about Smith's death.
Walz spokesman Teddy Tschann confirmed what Jordan wrote and said, "The Governor's Office reached out to both the White House and the Department of Justice over the weekend, and has been pushing the federal government to provide Minnesotans with as much information as possible."
In an e-mail to several fellow House members, Jordan also said there is no reason to believe there is any known video — from the task force or otherwise — of law enforcement's pursuit of Smith.
Jordan said there are city-operated cameras in the area, but they "are pointed at the street and business level, and not at the fifth level of a ramp," where the shooting occurred, she wrote to her colleagues.
The ramp's operator said its cameras are directed at entries, exits and stairwells, Jordan said.
Jordan's e-mail, with the subject line "BCA Briefing Notes," also revealed that task force members "were looking for another suspect when they received a tip related to Winston Smith" and changed the focus of their attention.
In a telephone interview late Monday, Jordan said that she wants federal task force members and "every officer in the state of Minnesota to have a body camera."
Police forces for the state's two largest cities were not part of the Uptown operation. St. Paul officers were pulled in January 2019 from participating in any law enforcement actions by the task force because there was no agreement at the time to allow St. Paul officers to use body-worn or dashboard cameras.
The situation is the same for police officers in Minneapolis, where the shooting of Smith occurred, said department spokesman John Elder. Even if MPD's officers were cleared to wear body cameras for task force deployment, Elder added, the staff shortage in the department makes it impossible to loan out any personnel.
The investigation continues amid nights of public protest over the death of Smith, who was starting to build a small local following for his online comedy sketches on Instagram. Smith, who was Black, was also outspoken about police violence particularly after the death of George Floyd when he posted two videos suggesting support of violence toward police.
"Get ready for war," he said in one posting. "All the shooters, suit up. … Bring your gun to the protest, bring them [expletive] bombs and rocket launchers and all that [expletive]."
In another video, Smith said law enforcement needed to be hit "from the top of these buildings. … I'm about to just strike as much as I can while I can and get up outta there … keep sabotaging … " he advised his followers.
Capritieshay Rogers, who has a 7-year-old daughter with Smith, said Monday that he "was bothered by how the police treated our people and how they treated him, and how they were always fussing with him."
Rogers, who said she has known Smith for most of her 29 years, added, "That's him speaking out. He just wanted [everyone] to know about the real. ... He just told me he would never turn himself in. ... If they want him, then come and get him."
Rogers also said she was suspicious about the U.S. Marshals Office's explanation that Smith "failed to comply and produced a handgun" before deputies opened fire.
"The police assassinated my baby's dad," Rogers said Monday. "You tell me what sense that it makes to shoot [at officers] from inside his car? They could have bum-rushed him [on] the stairwell [on his way up to his car], but they didn't."
The Ramsey County warrant issued two weeks before Smith's death was for failing to appear for sentencing May 19. He had been charged with two felonies in November 2019, when officers found him with a loaded gun in his car. As a felon, he was prohibited from owning a gun.
At that time, he had a Hennepin County warrant for violating terms of his probation for an aggravated robbery conviction for a 2017 incident involving his ex-girlfriend.
Staff writers Andy Mannix and Libor Jany contributed to this report.