The undercover officers who fatally shot Winston Boogie Smith Jr. in a vehicle atop an Uptown Minneapolis parking ramp last summer will not face criminal charges because Smith drew a handgun on them and fired, the Crow Wing County attorney announced Monday.
"Though I am unable to determine who fired first, it is irrelevant in this case," Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan wrote in a letter to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman dated Oct. 6 but released Monday. "Once an individual initiates a deadly force confrontation, a law enforcement officer does not have to wait to be shot/shot at before reacting."
Smith was shot June 3 by two members of the U.S. Marshals Service's Northstar Violent Offender Task Force, which was attempting to arrest him on a warrant for failing to show up for his sentencing on a felony gun charge. Ryan did not identify the task force members who shot Smith or their home agencies.
Their actions in firing at Smith were "reasonable and justified," Ryan wrote. "Their conduct was clearly in response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm."
Smith was shot in an SUV on the top level of the ramp in the 1400 block of W. Lake Street across from Stella's Fish Cafe, where he had just dined with a date and posted to social media about the experience.
There is no body camera or squad car dashcam footage of the incident because none was in use. The lack of transparency in this case prompted multiple Twin Cities metro sheriff's departments to pause their participation with the task force.
Smith's family was not satisfied with the decision.
"They had no reason to kill this man," said Marshawn Cheeks, a cousin, who added, "It's very relevant who fired first."
Ebony Kirkman, another cousin, said she wants to see the full report by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and learn the names of the officers who fired. She believes if the incident had been recorded, the officers would be charged.
"I wish I could say I'm surprised, but I'm not, and it's going to happen again," Kirkman said.
On Monday evening, the sidewalk outside the garage where Smith died was quiet.
"Today the community is not out here but we are standing together," Cheeks said, looking at the boarded-up memorial site.
Minneapolis police interviewed Smith's companion after the shooting, and she said she pleaded with Smith to put up his hands and comply with the officers' request, Ryan wrote. She said he refused, saying he did not want to go back to jail and that he was going to die.
That interview was captured on an officer's body-worn camera but has not been made available to the public. At some point after the encounter, the companion told a BCA agent she did not remember seeing a gun in Smith's SUV.
Ryan's decision not to charge the officers included his summation of what occurred before, during and after the fatal encounter. The report was based on interviews and BCA investigation of the scene. Although the shooting occurred in Minneapolis, Freeman sent the case to Ryan, who is based in Brainerd, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.
In his public report, Ryan said the task force had begun looking for Smith after May 19 when he failed to appear in Ramsey County District Court for sentencing. Smith was expected to receive a four-year sentence for illegal possession of a firearm to be served concurrently with his underlying aggravated robbery case in Hennepin County, Ryan wrote. On May 20, a warrant was issued for his arrest.
On June 3, the task force learned Smith was dining at Stella's with a female companion.
The vehicle he was known to use was found on the top level of a nearby ramp. Smith's identity and his connection to the vehicle were identified through social media posts, Ryan wrote. "Some of these videos, and other posts, contained content of Smith pulling a handgun out his pants; and Smith stating that he possessed guns and drugs for sale," Ryan wrote.
Task force members decided to arrest Smith at the top of the ramp and maintained surveillance on him as he and his companion returned to the vehicle. Once the couple were inside, task force members turned on lights and sirens and used their vehicles to box in Smith, Ryan wrote.
For several minutes, task force members in tactical gear told Smith he was under arrest and to put up his hands and exit the vehicle. But he did not comply so the decision was made to physically remove him from the vehicle, Ryan wrote.
One task force member grabbed a ballistics shield with U.S. marshals markings and drew a handgun while taking a position on the rear driver's side passenger area while others lined up behind, Ryan wrote.
While one task force member continued to tell Smith to exit the vehicle, Smith was alert and making eye contact but appeared to be doing something on his phone, Ryan wrote. After three minutes, one task force member tried unsuccessfully to break a window, and another saw Smith drop his phone, twist around and lean over the center console to grab something in the back seat. Ryan said Smith was told to stop before a task force member yelled, "Gun. Gun. Gun. He's reaching for/he's got a gun."
That task force member fired at Smith, Ryan wrote. Then the task force member who had been trying to break the window also fired on Smith, Ryan wrote. Smith was slumped but still moving and the task force was ordered to fall back.
Task force members broke out the rear window to get a clear view then escorted the woman from the vehicle before pulling Smith out and performing lifesaving measures. Paramedics arrived after about 15 minutes and pronounced him dead at the scene, Ryan wrote.
The report does not indicate when Smith fired, but the report also says it does not matter who fired first.
BCA investigators found a Smith & Wesson .380-caliber handgun on the floor between the driver's seat and the door. The BCA found Smith's DNA on the gun and six spent .380 cartridges inside the vehicle that were determined to have been fired from the gun. The gun had one remaining live cartridge in the chamber and the magazine was empty, Ryan wrote.
A second magazine with seven cartridges was found in a duffel bag in the back seat, Ryan wrote. Damage to the driver's side door indicated six shots had been fired from inside the vehicle. Evidence also showed 12 holes in the driver's side window indicative of shots fired from the outside into the vehicle, Ryan wrote. Two similar areas of damage in the rear driver's side passenger window tested positive for lead.
Ryan noted that a citizen outside a Walgreens reported hearing law enforcement patiently issuing commands of "put your hands up" and "put your hands on the steering wheel" for more than two minutes.
Shortly after the shooting, Minneapolis police responded to the scene. The woman who was with Smith, identified in Ryan's report as N.A., was captured on MPD body camera footage saying she had complied with orders and pleaded with Smith to do the same but he refused. She said he was trying to go live on Facebook, and that he did not want to go back to jail, Ryan wrote.
Ryan said two task force members fired at Smith, but he didn't identify anything else about them.
A preliminary investigation previously indicated Smith was shot by two deputies — one from Hennepin County and one from Ramsey County — who were working on the task force. The undercover officers who fired on Smith have not been publicly identified and likely will not be.
Marshals operate under the U.S. Department of Justice to protect federal courthouses and track down fugitives. In Minnesota, the marshals lead the North Star Fugitive Task Force, which draws from local law enforcement agencies.
Staff Writer Maya Rao contributed to this report.