The labor union representing HCMC's paramedics and emergency medical technicians alleged that two of its members were barred by management Tuesday from being interviewed by state investigators after the fatal shooting of Winston Smith early last month in Uptown Minneapolis.
Management's actions were condemned Tuesday in a statement by Sam Erickson, vice president of the Hennepin County Association of Paramedics and EMTs (HCAPE).
The union said four paramedics responded to the scene in two separate ambulances on June 3, when Smith was shot during an attempt by federal authorities to arrest him in a parking ramp.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), the state agency tasked with investigating the shooting, requested interviews with all four of them.
"Recently, two of these paramedics voluntarily provided a routine interview at the request of the BCA [and] in the presence of our union-appointed counsel," the statement said. "This interview went smoothly, and we encountered no issues."
However, a standard agreed-upon BCA interview with the other two paramedics in the case that was scheduled for Tuesday was canceled, after the investigative team had arrived.
"Management refused to take the two paramedics off an ambulance to participate in the BCA's requested interview," Erickson continued.
The labor official said that management explained to the union that it was told that its employees are barred from meeting with the BCA without someone from the County Attorney's Office present.
"To be clear," Erickson wrote, "the assistant county attorney involved in the case was not present at the first interview of HCAPE members."
Erickson wrote that management's decision was "counterproductive to transparency and expedited fact finding."
In a statement Tuesday evening, Hennepin Healthcare spokesman Tom Hayes said the paramedics will be interviewed in accordance with standard procedure.
"We have never, nor would we ever, decline to participate," he said in an e-mail. "Unfortunately the schedule didn't work out to do the interviews today, but we expect the interviews to be completed soon."
Earlier Tuesday, Bruce Gordon, speaking on behalf of the BCA, said the agency could not comment directly on an open investigation, but added, "It is very important in any investigation to obtain statements from all witnesses to an incident, including first responders. It is not uncommon for BCA agents to interview EMS personnel regarding what they observed."
Smith was wanted for a weapons violation when the agents converged on a vehicle he and a woman occupied.
The agency has asserted that Smith was shot only after he pointed a gun at the officers. The woman in the car, Norhan Askar, has said that she did not see Smith with a gun. Askar has since filed a lawsuit claiming three counts of denial of civil rights — state-created danger, excessive force and failure to announce — and one count of negligence.
Paul Walsh • 612-673-4482