Jamal Mitchell
1988 - 2024
A true peacekeeper with a ‘megawatt’ smile, Mitchell joined the police force to build community bridges.
By Liz Sawyer Star Tribune • June 11, 2024
Illustration by Kate Copeland, Special to the Star Tribune
Kate Copeland, Special to the Star Tribune
Jamal Mitchell
1988 - 2024
A true peacekeeper with a ‘megawatt’ smile, Mitchell joined the police force to build community bridges.
By Liz Sawyer Star Tribune
June 11, 2024

On routine patrols in his adopted city, Jamal Mitchell was eager to make a good impression.

Colleagues sometimes teased the rookie Minneapolis police officer about how frequently — and enthusiastically — he waved to residents from the squad car window, even those who weren't looking in his direction.

Pressed to explain, he once quipped: "I'm making a community deposit."

The 36-year-old East Coast transplant understood that every interaction, however small, was a chance to change public perception. In his short time on the force, Mitchell distinguished himself as a skilled communicator who could keep a level head under pressure and defuse tensions with his cheery disposition.

"He had this megawatt, Colgate smile that was just so infectious," said Fifth Precinct Inspector Christie Nelson, who quickly identified Mitchell as a rising star. Within months of when he began working in her south Minneapolis stationhouse, she told him she wanted to see sergeant's stripes on his uniform someday.

But Mitchell was killed May 30 while responding to an active shooter call in the Whittier neighborhood. First to arrive at the chaotic scene, he rushed to render aid to a man in the street he believed to be wounded. That man ambushed and killed him.

His shocking death in the line of duty cemented his legacy as a hero — a bighearted man who gave his final breath trying to help a stranger.

"He held his oath," Nelson said.

Finding his calling

Born and raised in New Haven, Conn., Mitchell was one of seven children.

Although quieter than his twin brother, Jamel, he flourished around people and served as the "peacemaker" of the family, Mitchell's mother, Janet Raper-Edwards, told WCCO.

Friends knew him as an eternal optimist and talented athlete who sought out every opportunity to play basketball with his siblings. After graduating from Wilbur Cross High School in 2007, Mitchell — known to loved ones as "Molly" — worked as a patient transporter at area hospitals to make ends meet.

Before switching to real estate, he spent several years as a certified nursing assistant and operating room tech at Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he met his longtime partner and fiancée, Tori Myslajek.

The couple moved to Minnesota about six years ago for her career advancement as an anesthesiologist. They raised four children together: Koen, 20, who is now in college, along with Jalen, 9, Kaden, 7, and Macen, 4.

"Jamal was our whole world," Myslajek, of Maple Grove, said in a statement last week, noting that the kids were his "greatest joys in life."

Mitchell ultimately found his calling in policing, where he believed he could make the greatest impact. After earning his law enforcement degree from Rasmussen University in 2021, he joined the MSP Airport Police as a community service officer. Although largely relegated to traffic enforcement outside the terminals, Mitchell developed a reputation for his professionalism and people skills. Colleagues soon flooded the management office urging that he should be fast-tracked onto the police force.

"He was a real smooth operator," said Sgt. Marcel Dockter, who recalled Mitchell as an intelligent, "top-tier" candidate who could've worked anywhere. "I would take 20 Jamal Mitchells if I could hire them."

Mitchell yearned for a more diverse environment where he could play a greater role in bolstering frayed community relations in the aftermath of George Floyd's murder. He specifically chose the Minneapolis police force, despite its myriad challenges, because he believed in that mission, said childhood friend Torey Duarte.

"I just knew he would be phenomenal as an officer," recalled Duarte, a firefighter in New Haven, who served as one of Mitchell's character references for the job. Mitchell treated everyone he met with dignity, Duarte added, and never acted out of malice. "It's just not in his character."

He graduated from the Minneapolis police academy on Feb. 3, 2023. A picture shows him, newly pinned, standing proudly in the center of nine classmates, holding a blue flag.

After the ceremony, Mitchell hoisted his baby girl onto his hip and flashed that signature movie star smile.

Early heroics

Three days later, Mitchell and his field training officer ran into a burning house in southwest Minneapolis to save an elderly couple struggling to escape the plume of black smoke.

Officer Zachery Randall crawled up a steep flight of stairs on his hands and knees, Mitchell following close behind, both inhaling toxic fumes. They escorted the dazed homeowners outside before the structure was fully engulfed in flames. That experience forged an immediate friendship between Randall and his recruit, who never hesitated in the face of adversity.

"It's part of the job," said Mitchell, who later downplayed the rescue in an interview with CNN's "Beyond the Call of Duty." "We're not trained to run into fires — but we are trained to put others' lives in front of ours."

In the aftermath of their media blitz, Randall counseled Mitchell to remain humble. Such positive stories were rare, he cautioned, their actions more often going unnoticed.

That advice proved unnecessary. Mitchell never flaunted his accomplishments, even after they both received an award for their lifesaving heroics that day.

"He kept his head down and nose on the grindstone," Randall said, noting that Mitchell always gave his all on the job. "You really can't ask for anything more than that."

Officer Lewis Bady, an academy classmate from north Minneapolis, remembers being struck by Mitchell's selflessness and ability to problem solve amid chaotic situations. He seemed to never get flustered.

"He was designed for this job," Bady said.

Even after they were sent to different precincts, Mitchell always made time to check in on his friends. Several times a week, he called Bady on the way in to his midwatch shift in south Minneapolis

In a world of texting, Mitchell preferred to talk. He relished fatherhood and lit up when discussing his children's milestones. That treasured routine helped Bady become more comfortable on the phone — and inspired him to call his own mother more often.

Uptown businesses also enjoyed working with Mitchell, whose calm demeanor alleviated tensions before they boiled over. Once, called to break up a fight at the James Ballentine VFW Post 246, he de-escalated the situation without having to resort to aggressive tactics or even arrests.

"As a citizen and a taxpayer, that's what I really want my cops doing," said manager Adam Wicklander.

After responding to an incident, Mitchell would often come back a few days later just to check in.

Last fall, a masked assailant snatched a purse from a woman walking home at dusk, tearing her shirt and leaving her shaken. Mitchell "could not have been more comforting, caring, and efficient in his handling of the theft," the victim wrote in a letter that was later placed in his personnel file. "I felt like what happened to me was important and worthy of his time and expertise."

Outside of work, Mitchell helped coach his son's youth basketball team in the north metro and volunteered with the Police Activities League, reading books to schoolchildren. He aspired to start an MPD basketball team.

"He was one of the pure ones who wanted to make the change people were asking for," said Yoom Nguyen, owner of the Lotus restaurant in Loring Park, where Mitchell ate lunch about three times a week. Mitchell regularly joked with customers and wait staff, forming genuine connections as he patiently waited for his favorite order of sesame chicken and fried rice.

For days after his death, the table he frequented remained empty out of respect.

'Rest easy, Mr. Sir'

Outside the Fifth Precinct station where Mitchell worked, hundreds of flowers now blanket squad car 510, whose driver has answered his final call.

Mourners dropped other mementos there, too. A painted stone with his badge number. A brown paper bag of food from a restaurant he liked on Eat Street. A white cross emblazoned with a thin blue line.

Two stick-figure drawings plastered to the rear driver's side door depict his family, carefully annotated with the names of all six members — a tribute from his 4-year-old.

Dozens of handwritten notes, from colleagues and strangers alike, expressed gratitude for a man who gave his life to protect others.

"You, your courage and bravery will never be forgotten," reads one letter from the family of Adam Finseth, a Burnsville firefighter-paramedic gunned down alongside two officers during a domestic violence call in February.

Mitchell's mother wept when she visited the memorial for the first time on Friday, as her son's fellow officers stood at attention. She gripped her husband's hand while taking in the sight of an ever-growing shrine to the child she raised.

Thank you for keeping us safe.

You are loved.

Rest easy, Mr. Sir.