Officer and squad vehicle video released Thursday shows Howard Peter Johnson's final moments in the encounter where he was shot and killed by a St. Paul police sergeant, the footage showing him apparently pointing a gun in the officer's direction and firing.
The video from Sgt. Cody Blanshan's body-worn camera shows a muzzle flash from the handgun held by Johnson, 24, when Blanshan fires, striking Johnson. The release of the footage came three days after the shooting amid calls from Johnson's family for transparency by investigators.
Johnson died at Regions Hospital of a gunshot wound. Blanshan, a 10-year veteran of the St. Paul force, was not wounded during the Monday evening confrontation near Earl Street and Hudson Road. Officers had responded to a domestic assault call and Blanshan encountered Johnson armed with a handgun.
At a news conference following the release of the video, Police Chief Axel Henry declined to discuss specifics, saying, "The sanctity of the independent investigation is something we must honor and respect to ensure the public remains confident with the entire process."
"I think the video speaks for itself," he said. "But I certainly haven't done a forensic exam of any of it, and I don't want to make judgments about a case that I'm not personally involved with."
The department-provided clip, running two minutes and 45 seconds, shows footage from Blanshan's body camera as he sits in the front seat of the squad car shortly after 6 p.m.
" He's right there … he's walking eastbound ... got the gun in his right hand, he's pointing it at a car, he's trying to carjack right now," Blanshan radios as he accelerates the squad. The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), which is investigating the shooting, says that at this point the sergeant struck Johnson with the vehicle, knocking him to the ground.
Blanshan flings open his door yelling, "Don't do it!" before at least 10 gunshots can be heard on the video, and Johnson, who had been standing, drops to the ground with what appears to be a gun at his side.
Although the clip is brief, dark and blurry, the video shows what appears to be a gun in Johnson's right hand pointed over his left shoulder as he turns away, along with a muzzle flash before he falls to the ground.
Dash camera footage from another squad car at the scene provided a different perspective, although it was farther away. Henry said Blanshan's squad car was not equipped with a dash camera and that video from his partner's squad may be released.
Blanshan remains on standard administrative leave.
Kenneth Manning, Johnson's stepfather, said the release of Thursday's video did not meet the family's call for transparency.
"We would like to see all the video, including the video from the [sergeant's] car that did the shooting, and if there wasn't a camera on that car, then we need to know why that car was allowed to be involved in the situation in the [first] place," Manning said. "We need to see all the footage available clean and unedited. What they showed us has been put together to control the narrative, but what we need is the unfiltered truth."
Paul Engh, who is representing Blanshan through the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association, said the sergeant acted properly.
"Sgt. Blanshan's use of deadly force was completely justified," Engh said. "He believed he was about to be killed."
Engh added that Blanshan "has provided a thorough statement to the BCA."
At the scene, according to the BCA, agents recovered a .45-caliber Glock pistol and three .45-caliber bullet casings as well as 10 9-millimeter casings that are consistent with Blanshan's department-issued handgun. A BCA spokesperson said they are still reviewing footage to learn who fired first.
The BCA said it would not release officer body camera, squad car or surveillance footage until the case is "closed and fully adjudicated." Family members were told that could take up to three months.
The Ramsey County Sheriff's Office filed a warrant for Johnson's arrest on Sept. 23 after he failed to show up for a court hearing on a felony domestic assault charge from March. That charge alleged Johnson hit his girlfriend in the face while she was driving in St. Paul. The criminal complaint noted that up to the time of the alleged assault, Johnson had seven other convictions related to domestic violence in the previous 10 years.
Family members defended Johnson in a news conference Wednesday and demanded that the city release video from the shooting.
"Regardless if he had a background, regardless if he had a warrant, my cousin was a person that had a family that loved him," said Juanita Lingwall. "We want answers."
His mother, Monique Johnson, said Wednesday: "I want the video footage from the businesses that were there, from the cop's cams, from the dashboard footage, I want it all. I'm entitled to that. That is my child. I deserve to know what happened to him."
Howard Johnson was the father of twin sons.
Personnel records released this week by the Police Department reveal that Blanshan, 38, joined the department in 2013 working in the Eastern and Central districts and was promoted to sergeant last year. He grew up in the Twin Cities playing hockey and was drafted by the New York Islanders in 2003. For six seasons, he played for various junior and minor league teams around North America until 2009.
The records show two modest reprimands, both for fender-benders in his squad, and no other discipline. He has no complaints listed in a database compiled by Communities United Against Police Brutality.
His file shows four commendations, including a letter of recognition from then-Police Chief Todd Axtell for his role in the safe recovery of a cold and injured man on a chilly night in November 2017, when the man fell 40 feet and became stuck in a dark, narrow space between a downtown parking ramp and a building.
Mayor Melvin Carter said at Thursday's news conference that regardless of the BCA's findings, "the impacts of this trauma are felt far beyond the individuals directly involved, and is especially targeting, especially triggering, for us here in Minnesota."
"I can't pretend to know what the Johnson family is going through this week, but we all know that it's horrific. I don't think that I can imagine something that would be satisfying for anyone given this circumstance," he said. "And we have to know that many of the questions that we all have aren't going to be answered today, they aren't going to be answered this week — that they can only be answered by taking the time and the deliberative process that the BCA is going through."