St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has urged expedited release of body-camera footage after a St. Paul police officer shot and killed a man who allegedly rammed the officer’s squad SUV at an intersection in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood Sunday.
Carter said he has asked Police Chief Todd Axtell to release the footage “as soon as reasonably possible,” once the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, the agency investigating the shooting, has collected preliminary witness statements and the family of Ronald K. Davis has had the opportunity to watch it.
The Ramsey County Medical Examiner identified the man shot as Davis, 31, of St. Paul. A spokesperson for BCA has not yet released the identity of the officer involved, as agents are still conducting interviews with witnesses and officers. Ramsey County Attorney John Choi’s office will issue a charging decision once the investigation is complete.
“I want to assure the public that we will be thorough and diligent in our work. We will utilize the resources and time necessary to make the right decision,” Choi’s spokesperson, Dennis Gerhardstein, said in a statement.
Davis’ death marks the 12th fatal officer-involved shooting so far this year, the second-highest number since 2000. The years 2015, 2016 and 2018 each saw 13 fatal officer-involved shootings, according to a Star Tribune database.
Davis was killed at 5:50 p.m. Sunday near the intersection of W. Thomas Avenue and N. Griggs Street. Police said the officer was not injured. According to an incident report provided by St. Paul police, the squad was stopped at the intersection when he was rear-ended by a vehicle.
“After the officer got out of his squad, the driver of the striking vehicle initiated a physical confrontation and a fight ensued,” the report said. “During the course of the fight, the officer discharged his service weapon, striking the adult male who had confronted him.”
Medics were called, but Davis was pronounced dead at the scene. The report does not indicate whether Davis, who does not have a violent criminal record, was armed, but emergency dispatch audio indicates he may have had a knife.
“Drop the knife! Drop the knife!” an officer can be heard screaming. “Shots fired, shots fired! Thomas and Griggs! One has been shot,” the officer continued. “He’s still at gunpoint he’s on the ground … have medics stage nearby.”
On Monday morning, streaks of blood in the street and two small bouquets of flowers were the only remnants of the chaotic scene. Next door to the shooting, a woman named Rita, who declined to give her last name, said she was at home watching TV when she heard “some sort of commotion” outside.
Rita said she didn’t go outside, but she did call 911 and was interviewed three times. In her 34 years there, she said, “nothing like this ever happened.” She later saw Davis, who appeared to be a black man, face down. By 6:15 p.m., she said, “I had yellow tape everywhere.”
The case bears some resemblance to the 2012 shooting of Victor Gaddy. St. Paul police fatally shot Gaddy in the Payne-Phalen neighborhood after he rammed his vehicle into unmarked squads that were used while investigating him in a drug case.
It comes as police grapple with what Axtell last week called a stretch of unprecedented violence in the city. He mobilized his entire department and beefed up patrols on the streets.
In a Facebook post Sunday night, Axtell said the officer in Sunday’s case was “faced with one of the most gut-wrenching situations imaginable.”
Last year, Carter led the charge to expedite the release of two St. Paul police body-camera videos that captured the Aug. 5 fatal shooting of William Hughes. Carter said at the time that he wanted the videos released after all witnesses, including the officers involved, provided a statement, and after Hughes’ family had viewed the videos in private.
“It would be difficult to find a rationale where that would be compromising the integrity of the investigation,” Carter said at the time.
When Axtell released the videos 10 days later, he said his “greatest goal” was to establish the infrastructure to release such videos within 72 hours.
Carter did not immediately say Monday whether he advocated releasing body-camera video from Sunday’s shooting before the case is resolved.
St. Paul police said in a written statement that Axtell will release the video when it won’t interfere with the investigation.
“Investigations take time,” the statement said. “Chief Axtell will release the video, in consultation with the BCA, when he knows the investigation won’t be compromised.” The department does not have a policy about releasing such videos, police said.
Early release unusual
It’s unusual in Minnesota for law enforcement agencies to release footage from body or squad-car cameras in officer-involved shootings before a case is resolved by either clearing the officers of wrongdoing or adjudication in court should they face criminal charges.
However, authorities from Richfield and Edina both said last week that they are looking into releasing dashcam footage from the Sept. 7 fatal shooting of Brian Quinones. The Quinones case remains under investigation.
The Rev. Darryl Spence, a member of the God Squad who was at Sunday’s scene, and activist K.G. Wilson called for the release of the body-camera video in Sunday’s shooting. Both noted that the shooting comes on the heels of some tense days for St. Paul, which recently witnessed three homicides in a nine-hour span.
“Right now we’re a community on edge,” Spence said. “Any little thing will push us over the edge.”
He urged community members to be measured in their responses as they await more information, but also called for authorities to release the video as soon as possible.
“Because we’re on such an edge, we have to be careful, we have to be prayerful, we have to hold each other up,” Spence said. “We need to not rush to judgment and make sure the right call is made.”