By AMY FORLITI and MOHAMED IBRAHIM, Associated Press
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – The woman who was in a vehicle last week when members of a U.S. Marshals Service Task Force fatally shot the driver said she never saw a gun on the man or in the vehicle, her lawyers said on Thursday.
The woman’s attorneys ‘testimony contradicts investigators’ claims that Winston Boogie Smith Jr., who was a black man, showed a gun before Task Force officials on Jan. 3, authorities also said evidence suggested that Smith had his gun had fired and a handgun and spent cartridge cases were found in the vehicle.
The woman’s lawyers, Christopher Nguyen and Racey Rodne, said her client “never saw a gun on Winston Smith in the lead up to the shooting, and she never saw a gun in the vehicle – at any time”.
The lawyers did not disclose the name of the woman who had lunch with Smith. They urged the public to respect their privacy and “heal their desire while they recover from this profound trauma.” They did not provide any information about the type of physical injuries she had sustained; Authorities said the woman was injured by broken glass in the shooting.
The woman did not appear at a press conference with her lawyers. They did not address their experiences or answer questions.
Smith, 32, of St. Paul, was killed when authorities tried to arrest him for a gun injury. The US Marshals Service said he was wanted because he was allegedly a felon in possession of a firearm and that Smith, who was sitting in a parked vehicle, failed to obey it and “produced a handgun, which resulted in Task Force members Force shot at the subject ”.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said evidence suggests Smith fired his gun – a handgun and spent shell casings were found in the car. When asked to respond to the woman’s contradicting report that she had not seen a gun, Department of Public Security spokesman Bruce Gordon said the BCA stood by his earlier testimony.
The shooting of Smith took place in a town tense since the death of George Floyd a little over a year ago, and the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright by an official in nearby Brooklyn Center in April.
Smith’s shootings sparked days of protests in the Uptown neighborhood as his family and parishioners demanded transparency. Authorities said there was no body or crew camera footage of the shooting. In addition, the two task force members who shot Smith – a deputy sheriff’s deputy from Ramsey County and one from Hennepin County – worked undercover, causing authorities to say state law prevents them from publishing their names.
Nguyen and Rodne said they hope law enforcement commitments to work toward greater transparency and accountability since Floyd’s death “will be confirmed by their actions as we work to shed light on why Winston Smith was on a date last Thursday for lunch.”
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 on the case.
“There is a lack of transparency due to the lack of body cameras. We are now asking the government to come forward and show us what it must have to support this narrative that it created … now contradicted here. “
The BCA said Thursday it would release all public data when the investigation is completed. Until then, state law prohibits publishing evidence or discussing an open and active investigation. After the BCA finishes its work, it will forward 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 Minnesota officials to be removed from the federal workforce, and they said the BCA should not investigate as there is a conflict of interest when police investigate the police.
Angela Rose Myers, NAACP president in Minneapolis, was among those who called for transparency and accountability.
“Just because a video of Winston Smith’s murder didn’t go viral doesn’t mean his life didn’t matter,” she said.
Local officials say the Task Force MPs were assigned body cameras, but were told by the U.S. Marshals Service they couldn’t use them despite an October Justice Department policy change that would have allowed them to be used. The Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office and Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office have announced that they will not be on the task force until the cameras are approved.
This week, U.S. Assistant Attorney General Lisa Monaco ordered Justice Department law enforcement to wear body cameras when making planned arrests or issuing search warrants. The directive instructs the heads of the Marshals Service, the FBI, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to develop guidelines for body-worn cameras within 30 days.
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