A crowd protesting the shooting and wounding of an 18-year-old woman by Robbinsdale police Thursday night rallied Friday evening in North Commons Park in north Minneapolis, then marched to North Memorial Medical Center where they chanted outdoors, calling for police to grant access to the teen’s family.
Shortly after, police allowed family members to enter the hospital to see Tania Harris. “Look at what we just did,” supporters chanted. “We are powerful!”
Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said that Harris’ parents were initially denied entrance Thursday night because she was in surgery and then recovery, where no visitors are allowed. And, he added, when someone is under arrest, they typically don’t receive visitors until they’ve been charged. Once that happens, officers have some discretion.
In this case, Stanek said, an exception was made to allow Harris’ parents in because they made a request.
Authorities expect to release the name of the officer involved in the shooting on Monday.
The family earlier Friday called the shooting excessive, saying Harris had a kitchen knife because she was defending herself against three people who were threatening her.
As Harris remained at North Memorial in Robbinsdale in stable condition Friday, authorities charged her with second-degree assault, saying she chased another woman with the knife and threatened to kill her. Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced the charges Friday and set bail at $50,000.
But Harris’ mother, Kim Tolbert, said her daughter, a senior at an alternative high school and the mother of an 8-month-old girl, was only trying to protect her family from three people who were threatening to fight her.
“For police to have used such aggression … it was very tough,” added Harris’ father, Melik Tolbert. “She’s not a violent person. It could have took something else, something other than a bullet.”
Kim Tolbert said she called police Thursday night after the trio, one male and two females, showed up at their apartment building in the 3700 block of Hubbard Avenue N. in Robbinsdale to “jump on” Harris. Tolbert said efforts to get the three to leave were unsuccessful and her daughter was holding the knife to defend herself. “She was really scared,” she said.
But the criminal complaint says Harris “burst” out the apartment door, chasing a woman with the knife and screaming, “I’m going to kill you, bitch!” The complaint says that the police officer ordered Harris to stop and drop the knife — a command heard by at least two witnesses, investigators say — but she didn’t stop running or drop the weapon. An officer fired twice, wounding Harris, and then recovered the knife.
The officer has been put on paid administrative leave, standard in such cases.
Harris’ family and her pastor said there were other ways police could have defused the situation. “I know police have a job to do, but there has to be another way to deal with a teenage girl,” said Bishop Larry Cook of Real Believers Faith Center in north Minneapolis, where the family worships. “For her to be shot two times to me seems to be totally unnecessary.”
Harris’ mother and 7-year-old sister, who witnessed the shooting, said other witnesses disputed whether officers made any commands to Harris to put down the knife before she was shot. Cook said the 18-year-old was just holding the knife, and was shot within 5 feet of the officer.
“Police were called to protect them. And their daughter gets shot,” Cook said. “It’s easy to say, ‘Just drop that knife’ … of course she should have stayed in the house … [But] did she deserve to get shot?”
It’s the first non-accidental officer-involved shooting in Robbinsdale’s recent history, Chief Jim Franzen said.
The Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the shooting. It didn’t say Friday how far away Harris was from the officer, but law enforcement experts say police are trained to be aware that someone who is less than 21 feet away with a knife can stab an officer before the officer can get a gun out of a holster.
Black Lives Matter Minneapolis released a statement early Friday condemning the shooting and saying that Harris was unarmed, but edited it later to remove the reference to her being unarmed, stating: “That’s no excuse for shooting a high school student.”
“The police’s attempts to vilify Tania and immediately justify their unnecessary violence toward her in the media reflects a larger pattern in which black victims of police shootings around the country have been demonized,” the organization said in a statement before holding a rally at 6 p.m. Friday in Minneapolis to demand police be prosecuted. “We are witnessing a policing culture that insists on shooting first and asking questions later.”
Harris’ parents said they plan to take legal action. They said they were mistreated by police, including having Kim Tolbert handcuffed and held temporarily Thursday.
Escorted by two police cars and volunteers, a few hundred supporters marched about 2 miles to North Memorial while chanting “No peace, no justice” and “Black lives matter.”
The group marched around squad cars and stood in front of at least a dozen officers blocking the entrance to the hospital yelling “let the family in.” Their wishes were eventually granted and the Tolberts were allowed to visit Harris for 30 minutes.
Harris will likely require a second surgery to remove a bullet still lodged in her pelvic bone, family said. Supporters set up a GoFundMe account under “Justice for Tania” to raise $5,000 toward her bail.
“I called the police and they treated us as if we weren’t the victim,” Kim Tolbert said. “Teenagers fight. You don’t just shoot a teenager for being a teenager.”
Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141
Liz Sawyer • 612-673-4648