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Woman never saw a gun on man fatally shot in Minneapolis by task force, attorneys say

Officials said they stand by their earlier statement that Winston Boogie Smith Jr. displayed a handgun before a federal U.S. Marshals Service task force shot him.
/ Source: The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS — The woman who was in a vehicle when members of a federal U.S. Marshals Service task force fatally shot the driver last week said she never saw a gun on the man or in the vehicle, her attorneys said Thursday.

The statement from the woman’s attorneys contradicts investigators’ claims that Winston Boogie Smith Jr., who was Black, displayed a handgun before officers on the task force opened fire on June 3 in a parking ramp in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood. Authorities have also said evidence indicated Smith fired his gun, saying a handgun and spent cartridge cases were found inside the vehicle.

The woman’s attorneys, Christopher Nguyen and Racey Rodne, said their client “never saw a gun on Winston Smith leading up to the shooting and she never saw a gun inside the vehicle — at any time.”

The attorneys did not release the name of the woman, who was on a lunch date with Smith. They asked the public to respect her privacy and her “desire to heal as she is recovering from this profound trauma.” They did not elaborate on the nature of any physical injuries she received; authorities said the woman had suffered injuries from broken glass as a result of the shooting.

The woman did not appear at a news conference with her lawyers. They did not elaborate on her experience or answer questions.

Smith, 32, of St. Paul, was killed as authorities were trying to arrest him on a weapons violation. The U.S. Marshals Service said he was wanted for allegedly being a felon in possession of a firearm and that Smith, who was in a parked vehicle, didn’t comply and “produced a handgun resulting in task force members firing upon the subject.”

Image: Candles and flowers are arranged at a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. early on June 5, 2021.
Candles and flowers are arranged at a vigil for Winston Boogie Smith Jr. early on June 5, 2021. Authorities say Smith, wanted on a weapons violation, fired a gun from inside his vehicle before he was fatally shot by members of a federal task force as they were trying to arrest him.Christian Monterrosa / AP file

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has said evidence indicates Smith fired his gun — a handgun and spent cartridge cases were found inside the car. When asked to respond to the woman’s contradicting account that she didn’t see a gun, Department of Public Safety spokesman Bruce Gordon said the BCA stands by it’s earlier statement.

The shooting of Smith happened in a city that has been on edge since the death of George Floyd just over a year ago, and the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by an officer in nearby Brooklyn Center in April.

Smith’s shooting sparked days of protests in the Uptown neighborhood as his family members and community members have demanded transparency. Authorities have said there is no body camera or squad camera footage of the shooting. In addition, the two task force members who fired at Smith — one sheriff’s deputy from Ramsey County and one from Hennepin County — were working undercover so authorities say state law bars them from releasing their names.

Nguyen and Rodne said they hope that commitments made by law enforcement to work toward more transparency and accountability since Floyd’s death “will will be borne out through their actions as we work to shine a light on why Winston Smith lost his life last Thursday while on a lunch date.”

Jeff Storms, an attorney for Smith’s family, said the government has now heard the “people’s evidence” and the people deserve to hear the government’s evidence in the case.

“There is a lack of transparency by the lack of body cameras. We now ask for the government to come forward and show us what they have to support this narrative that they created... now contradicted here today.”

The BCA said Thursday it will release all public data when the investigation is closed. Until then, the agency said, state law bars it from releasing evidence or discussing an open and active investigation. After the BCA finishes its work, it will turn over its findings to a prosecutor for review.

The lack of body camera footage of the shooting has raised questions in Minnesota, as Smith’s family members and activists continue to demand transparency. On Thursday, activists also called for the removal of Minnesota officers from federal task forces, and they said the BCA should not be investigating, alleging there is a conflict of interest when police investigate police.

Angela Rose Myers, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, was among those demanding transparency and accountability.

“Just because a video didn’t go viral of Winston Smith’s murder, doesn’t mean his life didn’t matter,” she said.

Local officials say the deputies on the task force were assigned body cameras, but were told by the U.S. Marshals Service that they could not use them, despite an October change in Justice Department policy that would have allowed them to be used. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office have said they will not participate in the task force until the cameras are allowed.

This week, Deputy U.S. Attorney General Lisa Monaco ordered Justice Department law enforcement officers to wear body cameras when making planned arrests or serving search warrants. The directive orders the heads of the Marshals Service, FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to develop body-worn camera policies within 30 days.