Attorneys for the woman in Winston Smith's car when he was killed by a federal task force said Thursday that the officers opened fire after he raised his cellphone, not a gun, contradicting assertions by law enforcement.
The lawyers relayed the most detailed account yet of Norhan Askar at a news conference in front of the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, exactly four weeks after a fugitive task force overseen by the U.S. Marshals Service shot Smith on the fifth floor of an Uptown parking ramp in front of her.
Askar's legal counsel also said the officers did not identify themselves as law enforcement agents after they surrounded the couple in unmarked cars.
Their remarks called into question the official story about what happened the afternoon of June 3, when authorities have said the North Star Fugitive Task Force was tipped off to Smith's location and went in to arrest him on a Ramsey County warrant for missing his court sentencing for being a felon in possession of a gun.
The officers were not wearing body cameras, and no other video footage has publicly emerged, making it difficult to verify conflicting claims.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is investigating the case, said that Smith fired a gun from his Maserati and that agents recovered a pistol and six matching cartridge cases from his vehicle.
But Askar has maintained that she never saw Smith with a gun, or any gun in the car at all — a point that her attorneys Christopher Nguyen and Racey Rodne stressed again Thursday.
According to the account laid out by her legal counsel:
Askar, 27, and Smith, 32, had been going out for several weeks when they went on a date at Stella's Fish Cafe. After lunch and drinks, they walked back to Smith's car across the street, climbed inside and found themselves surrounded by unmarked cars. People trained their weapons on Askar and Smith and yelled at them to put their hands up.
Askar complied, scared for her life. Smith began to stream the scene on Facebook live on his mobile device, but "as he raised the phone all she could hear was gunfire and saw Winston Smith slump over," said Nguyen.
Authorities handcuffed Askar and placed her in the back of a vehicle until an ambulance came.
She had been injured by shattered glass amid the barrage of gunfire. An officer later asked her how her date was.
Search warrants filed by the BCA show that agents recovered a black iPhone from the front passenger seat of Smith's car, along with a black Samsung phone and a purple iPhone near Smith. The bureau also said it retrieved handcuffs with apparent blood on them.
"Law enforcement has a duty to announce themselves," said Nguyen.
He added that Askar — who did not appear at the news conference — struggles with the trauma of seeing her date shot in front of her, "and even being in a car brings significant anxiety."
A spokesperson for the U.S. Marshals Service said the agency's policy does not allow it to comment about ongoing investigations led by other agencies.
Attorneys for Askar said the BCA also 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 Thursday evening that 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."
Nguyen said that in his experience as a criminal defense lawyer, such samples are generally taken in cases where somebody is believed to have shot a gun. "They should want transparency and accountability and they failed," he said.
He and Rodne announced their intent to sue all the agencies involved for violating Askar's civil rights.
Jeff Storms, an attorney representing Smith's family, said the marshals and other members of the task force have only sent written statements to BCA investigators.
"To the best of my knowledge, not a single officer involved in the shooting has given an oral statement," he said.
Demonstrators have regularly convened at Lake Street and Girard Avenue outside the garage where Smith was killed to honor his memory — along with that of Deona Marie Knajdek, who was killed by a speeding vehicle while protesting on his behalf June 13 — and demand the release of evidence.
The killing of Smith, a Black man, has brought another wave of calls for police accountability just over a year after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd.
The Marshals Service faced allegations that its officers had not announced themselves when confronting self-described anti-fascist activist Michael Reinoehl last September in the fatal shooting of a right-wing protester in Portland, Ore.
Billie Jean Van Knight, who is part of the Racial Justice Network, said at the news conference that people are innocent until proven guilty.
"You should not be killed [getting] apprehended before you get to your day in court," she said.
Staff writer Andy Mannix contributed to this report.