The Crow Wing County attorney in central Minnesota is reviewing evidence and will make a charging decision in the fatal shooting of Winston "Boogie" Smith Jr. in a parking ramp in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood by members of a federal law enforcement task force.
Donald Ryan, who has held the post for 27 years, said Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman looked 125 miles northwest to the Brainerd office in order to find a prosecutor who did not have a conflict of interest. Deputies from three metro counties were part of the U.S. Marshals Service task force, whose members shot Smith on June 3 while trying to serve a warrant for his arrest. Ryan said he will review the evidence on his own and hopes to have a decision by the middle of October.
"I know that [Freeman] checked with a lot of the larger counties around there," he said. "It sounds like everybody in the Twin Cities has a conflict."
Along with the distance from the metro area, Ryan said he suspects Freeman "just called because of my experience."
Jeff Storms, a civil attorney representing the Smith family, said he was aware that Crow Wing County would be making the charging decision.
Ryan said he understands that criminal investigations of officers who kill civilians while on duty have often prompted sometimes violent civil unrest in recent years, but he said such external forces will not affect his work.
"I have a case, I'm going to review the evidence and will make the decision that the evidence calls for," he said.
Since his election in 1994, Ryan said, he's had "a few" police deadly force cases to review for possible charges and doesn't believe he's decided to charge an officer with a crime. "If I had, I would have recalled," he said.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which investigated the shooting, said it forwarded its findings to the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office in late July.
While Smith was killed in Hennepin County, several metro county attorneys have been deferring such cases to other agencies for review to avoid a conflict of interest when their local police departments are implicated in the deaths.
A preliminary investigation shows that it was a Hennepin County sheriff's deputy and a Ramsey County deputy who shot Smith while under the direction of the U.S. Marshals Service's Northstar Violent Offender Task Force, which was attempting to arrest him on a warrant for being a felon in possession of a gun. The officers who fired have not been publicly identified, and likely will not be due to their undercover status, under state and federal law.
Smith was shot while in an SUV atop a parking ramp in the 1400 block of W. Lake Street across from Stella's Fish Cafe, where he had just dined.
The BCA has not said who shot first, but the agency previously issued a news release stating that Smith had fired a gun from inside the vehicle he was sitting in when he was shot.
Attorneys for the woman who was in the car with Smith have said she never saw him with a weapon. There is no body camera or squad car dashcam footage of the incident because neither were being used. Also, the ramp's operator said its cameras are directed only at entries, exits and stairwells.
A search warrant affidavit filed by investigators said several police gun cartridge casings were recovered from the scene and that a pistol and matching casings were found inside Smith's vehicle.
Several nights of public protest followed 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 murder of George Floyd by fired Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin in May 2020.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482
Chao Xiong • 612-673-4391