The intersection of W. Lake Street and S. Girard Avenue in south Minneapolis emerged as another focal point of protests earlier this summer after members of a federal task force shot and killed a Black man, 32-year-old Winston Boogie Smith Jr., while attempting to arrest him June 3 in an Uptown parking ramp.
Tensions rose June 13 when an unlicensed driver crashed an SUV into a parked car protesters had used to barricade the street at the intersection, killing a woman, Deona Marie Knajdek. Three other protesters were injured.
Here's what we know — and don't know — about Smith's death and the events that followed.
What happened to Winston Smith?
Members of the North Star Fugitive Task Force, led by the U.S. Marshals Service, were tipped off June 3 to Smith's location. He was wanted on a warrant for being a felon in possession of a firearm, according to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
Task force members approached Smith just after 2 p.m. while he was in a car with a 27-year-old female passenger, identified by her lawyers as Norhan Askar, on the fifth floor of a parking ramp in Minneapolis' Uptown neighborhood. Askar's legal counsel said the officers did not identify themselves as law enforcement agents after they surrounded the couple in unmarked cars. When asked if the officers identified themselves, the BCA declined to comment, citing the ongoing investigation.
A Hennepin County sheriff's deputy and a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy shot and killed Smith after he fired a gun from his vehicle, according to the BCA. Askar's attorneys contradicted that assertion during a July 1 news conference, saying the officers opened fire after Smith raised his cellphone, not a gun. Smith died from multiple gunshot wounds, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office said.
The officers were not wearing body cameras, and no other video footage has emerged publicly, making it difficult to verify conflicting claims.
Videos that Smith posted to social media show that he and Askar had just finished dining at Stella's Fish Cafe near the parking ramp shortly before he was killed. Askar was injured by shattered glass in the shooting and taken to Hennepin County Medical Center for treatment.
The Star Tribune initially reported falsely that Smith was a murder suspect on its website and social media accounts. The news organization later acknowledged and apologized for the error.
Who was Winston Smith?
A complex portrait of Smith's life has emerged since the killing. Family and friends described Smith, who attended Coon Rapids High School, as a father of three who loved music and posting comedy skits to social media. In a recent video posted by a local comedian nicknamed Steff Weezy, Smith played the role of a DoorDash driver who was eating the food he was supposed to deliver.
In recent months, Smith had become increasingly vocal about what he saw as the unjust killings of Black men by law enforcement. In one undated picture posted to Instagram, he is seen with civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who has represented the families of Floyd and Daunte Wright, who was killed April 11 in a police traffic stop in Brooklyn Center. Crump is one of several attorneys retained by Smith's family since the killing.
Smith posted two videos on social media suggesting support for violence toward police.
"Get ready for war," he said in one posting.
Public records show Smith previously pleaded guilty to armed robbery and was charged with fleeing police, in addition to a warrant for an alleged firearm-related parole violation.
What was Smith's warrant about?
According to online court records, Smith was wanted for allegedly being a felon in possession of a firearm in 2019, the Associated Press reported. The felony stems from a 2017 assault and robbery of Smith's ex-girlfriend. Smith pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting first-degree aggravated robbery for attacking his ex-girlfriend while another woman took her purse. Smith was sentenced to two years in prison, but the prison sentence was stayed for three years, provided he didn't break the law.
With the felony conviction, Smith was barred from possessing a firearm. In December 2019, he was charged in Ramsey County with two counts of illegally possessing a firearm. According to the complaint, officers arrested Smith on a probation violation and found a handgun under the driver's seat of the car he had been in earlier.
Smith was also charged with fleeing police in Hennepin County last year. According to the complaint in that case, officers in Bloomington began chasing Smith at a high speed, but stopped when he started driving the wrong way on a highway.
Is there physical evidence that Smith fired a gun at members of the task force?
BCA investigators said there is evidence from the scene that indicates Smith fired his weapon from inside the car during the attempted arrest. They said they recovered a Smith and Wesson M&P 380 pistol from the driver's side of the vehicle and found six cartridge casings matching the pistol inside the car, according to search warrant affidavits filed in Hennepin County District Court.
Attorneys for Askar, the woman who was inside the car with Smith when he was killed, said she never saw Smith with a weapon.
Smith raised his phone, not a gun, to stream the scene on Facebook live, but "as he raised the phone all she could hear was gunfire and saw Winston Smith slump over," attorney Christopher Nguyen said at a July 1 news conference.
Askar's attorneys said the BCA told them it had not tested Smith's forearms for gunshot residue — which could indicate that he had fired a weapon — before the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office washed his body. BCA spokeswoman Jill Oliveira said the Hennepin County Medical Examiner's Office tests gunshot residue upon special request, and that the BCA didn't ask for such an analysis because it would not provide conclusive evidence about whether Smith fired or handled a gun.
"In a situation like this where guns were fired from inside and outside the vehicle in close proximity, we would not be able to determine which gun the [gunshot residue] came from," Oliveira said. "The BCA is conducting DNA testing and other pertinent examinations on the guns in this case."
Which law enforcement agencies were present at the time of the killing?
The North Star Fugitive Task Force, led by the U.S. Marshals, is made up of local, state and federal law enforcement members. The joint operation works to track down and apprehend fugitives in Minnesota, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
According to the U.S. Marshals Service, members of the following agencies were at the scene at the time of Smith's killing:
- U.S. Marshals Service
- Minnesota Department of Corrections
- Department of Homeland Security
- Hennepin County Sheriff's Office
- Ramsey County Sheriff's Office
- Anoka County Sheriff's Office
After the shooting, the Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka Sheriff's Offices withdrew their participation from the task force. Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said his agents were forbidden to use body-worn cameras during the encounter and that the U.S. Marshals Service "has been misleading" in public comments suggesting otherwise.
Have the names of the deputies who fired shots been released?
Despite demands from protesters, state investigators said the names of the two deputies from Hennepin and Ramsey County sheriff's offices who shot and killed Smith will not be released because they were working undercover at the time.
Minnesota law states that information about undercover personnel becomes public record once that person is no longer serving in an undercover role. However, it gives the agency's Data Practices Office discretion over whether release of that information will "threaten the personal safety of the officer or jeopardize an active investigation."
Will the deputies be charged for Smith's killing?
Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan announced Oct. 11 that the undercover officers who fatally shot Smith acted within their lawful authority and won't be charged in his death. Ryan wrote in a letter announcing his decision that Smith failed to comply with the officers while exiting his vehicle and initiated "deadly force" by drawing his handgun and firing at task force members.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman sent the case to Ryan, who is based in Brainerd, to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The BCA investigated the shooting and forwarded findings to the Crow Wing County Attorney's Office in late July.
What is the status of the deputies involved?
The personnel involved in the shooting were placed on administrative leave after the incident, U.S. Marshals Service spokesperson Nikki Credic-Barrett told the Star Tribune.
Which agency is handling the investigation?
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is investigating the killing and said public details would remain confidential until the case is closed. The BCA on Oct. 20 released most of the investigative file, containing more than a thousand pages of documents, audio and photos, one week after Ryan announced that there would be no charges against the deputies involved. The case file does not yet contain body camera and dash camera footage from officers responding after the shooting because it has not yet been fully redacted, said BCA spokesperson Jill Oliveira.
An attorney for Smith's family on Oct. 15 called for an independent investigation into his killing, pointing out that officers at the scene were never interviewed as part of the state's investigation. The officers submitted only written statements giving their accounts of the June 3 shooting to the BCA, the attorney said, claiming the state's investigation was flawed.
Why isn't there any video footage of the incident?
The BCA said there is no squad car camera footage, and the deputies involved also weren't wearing body cameras because they were operating under the rules of the U.S. Marshals' North Star Fugitive Task Force, which don't allow the devices.
However, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in October that it had changed its policy to permit state, local, territorial and tribal task forces to use body-worn cameras "while serving arrest warrants, or during other planned arrest operations, and during the execution of search warrants." The marshals began phasing in this policy in February 2021, according to a statement released in early June, but no explanation has been offered for the delay in implementing the policy in Minnesota.
Minneapolis police interviewed Smith's female companion on a body-worn camera after the incident, but that footage has not yet been released.
Have any lawsuits been filed related to the shooting?
Askar filed a lawsuit July 23 in Hennepin County District Court against Hennepin and Ramsey counties, their sheriff's departments and the two officers who fired the shots into Smith's car. The suit claims three counts of denial of civil rights — state-created danger, excessive force and failure to announce — and one count of negligence. Askar is seeking at least $50,000 in relief.
Who was Deona M. Knajdek and what happened to her?
Knajdek was a 31-year-old mother of two girls. She worked as project manager for a vulnerable-adult service provider. Her mother, Debbie Kenney, described her daughter as someone who found a cause in activism after struggling "for many months and years."
Knajdek was playing a game of "Red Light, Green Light" with other protesters in the street on the night of June 13 when an unlicensed driver — identified as Nicholas D. Kraus, 35, of St. Paul — crashed into Knajdek's car, which was barricading a street at the intersection, striking and killing her. Protesters restrained Kraus at the scene until police could arrest him.
Kraus was charged June 16 in Hennepin County District Court with second-degree intentional murder and two counts of assault with a dangerous weapon. He did not enter a plea at his first court appearance on June 17. Judge Paul Scoggin ruled Sept. 10 that Kraus was competent to stand trial, based on a report by a court-appointed mental health expert. Neither the prosecution nor the defense objected to the determination. Kraus is being held in lieu of $1 million bail.
Prosecutors have said Kraus was intoxicated at the time of the crash. The results of his blood alcohol test have not yet been disclosed. Kraus has been convicted of drunken driving five times and has been convicted of driving without a license, assault and giving police a false name. His license was canceled in 2013.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman has said there is no current evidence to suggest that Kraus' actions were motivated by bias.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.