The family of Jaffort Smith, who was fatally shot by St. Paul police in 2016, filed a federal lawsuit against the city and four officers last week seeking damages for an alleged violation of Smith's civil rights.
Officers said they saw Smith shoot a woman in the face before he fired at police and ignored repeated orders to drop his weapon, according to a report from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which investigated the incident. A grand jury ultimately issued no charges against the officers involved.
But the 11-page complaint — filed by attorney Paul Bosman of Communities United Against Police Brutality, a local nonprofit that helps families of people killed by police — says Smith was "not a credible threat" when officers shot him repeatedly.
The lawsuit alleges that officers violated Smith's rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments "through their use of excessive force." It also argues the city was negligent for training officers with a focus "on a proactive use of force and on officer safety above citizen safety."
Bosman said civil rights claims generally have a six-year statute of limitations, which is why he filed the suit Friday. Smith was killed May 9, 2016.
Kamal Baker, press secretary for St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, said Wednesday that the city had not been served with the lawsuit.
"While this tragedy forever changed the lives of all those involved, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's investigation determined the officers did not engage in wrongdoing, and a grand jury convened in Washington County declined to pursue charges," Baker said in a statement.
All four officers named in the suit — John Corcoran, Michael Tschida, Mark Grundhauser and Jeff Korus — still are with St. Paul police, according to department spokesman Steve Linders.
In a 2017 interview with the Pioneer Press, after the grand jury reached its decision, former Washington County Attorney Pete Orput said it appeared to him that Smith was determined to commit "suicide by cop." The Ramsey County Attorney's Office asked Washington County to review the case because one of the officerswas related to an employee.
Smith, 33, suffered from mental illness, including schizophrenia. He was "well-known" to the St. Paul Police Department and "courteous and cooperative" during previous arrests, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit says a bullet fragment from the face of Beverly Flowers, the woman who Smith allegedly shot, could not be matched to any gun. It suggests that Flowers could have been hit by a fragment from a shot fired by police, though officers told BCA investigators that they heard a shot and saw a gun flash before Flowers grabbed her face and collapsed.
Flowers, who survived but lost her eye, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Officers said after Flowers collapsed, Smith fled and fired at officers, according to the BCA report. The lawsuit points out that only one casing from Smith's gun was found in the area.
Smith and officers exchanged more gunfire, and at one point Smith fell with his gun still in his hand, according to the lawsuit and BCA report. Tschida told investigators that he saw that the slide of Smith's gun was locked back, meaning it was out of ammunition or had malfunctioned. Then an officer with a shotgun arrived and shot Smith several times from a distance.
Smith's mother, Matilda Smith, joined local efforts protesting police brutality in the wake of her son's death. In a 2020 interview posted on Minnesota's Black Lives Matter website, Matilda Smith called for officials to reopen his case, saying the grand jury process lacks transparency and may be one-sided.
"My family needs answers," she said in the interview. She did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.