The fatal shooting of Winston "Boogie" Smith by members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force was "authorized under Minnesota law," and no law enforcement officers should be charged in the matter, according to the county attorney tasked with reviewing the case.
Donald Ryan, the Crow Wing County Attorney, sent two letters to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman Monday laying out his conclusions regarding the June 3 killing of Smith. The 32-year-old was shot and killed in a parking ramp in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis, by deputies working on the U.S. Marshals North Star Fugitive Task Force.
The U.S. Marshals said the task force was trying to arrest Smith on a warrant related to him missing a court appearance on being a felon in possession of a gun. Two undercover agents — one a member of the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office, the other from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office — fired at Smith, who died of multiple gunshot wounds.
In late September, Ryan announced his office would be reviewing the case at the request of Freeman, citing a conflict of interest among Twin Cities county attorneys.
Freeman's office released Ryan's letter Monday which, together, conclude the task force acted within the scope of Minnesota law when its members pursued Smith that day and attempted to arrest him; and when two deputies opened fire on Smitih, known as a musician and father.
Ryan, in one of the letters, writes that he went over investigative materials, met with the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA), and visited the shooting site as part of his review.
"It is my opinion that the use of deadly force ... was authorized under Minnesota law using either standard," Ryan wrote. "Therefore, no criminal prosecution should be sought in this matter."
Ryan said Smith ignored law enforcement's orders to exit his vehicle when they tried to arrest him on the parking ramp's top floor, and officers eventually used a tool to try to break his window. While doing so, officers on scene saw Smith reach for something in the back seat, then return to the front seat. Officers watching him yelled for him not to do it, and one began yelling about a gun.
One member of the task force then starts shooting at Smith, causing the officer who'd been trying to break the window to drop that tool, pull out a gun and fire at Smith as well, Ryan's letter says.
The task force members that fired their weapon first said they saw Smith take out a handgun. They believed Smith was going to shoot an officer, according to Ryan's letter. The other task force member that fired at Smith did not see the weapon, but believed based on his colleague's reaction that there was an immediate threat of violence.
There was no body cam footage of the incident. In search warrants, investigators said they found a gun, casings and bullet fragments in Smith's vehicle, and said there were indications Smith fired shots from inside the car. Ryan concluded Smith did indeed fire his gun, but wrote he was "unable to determine who fired first."
But the answer to that question is "irrelevant," Ryan wrote, saying if an individual "initiates a deadly force confrontation," officers aren't obligated to wait until they are shot at to react.
"The reaction and reasoning of the two [task force members] in this case was reasonable and justified," Ryan's letter says.
Norhan Askar, a 27-year-old woman in Smith's car during the entire incident, had previously said publicly she never saw him raise a gun. Immediately after the shooting, Askar can be heard on body cam video saying she pleaded with Smith to put his hands up and start a Facebook Live stream, according to Ryan's letter. The police, she said, started breaking the glass then "shot through" it," at which point Askar said she was grabbed by a law enforcement officer and escorted to another vehicle.
She told the BCA in a statement she never saw a gun in Smith's vehicle, the letter says.
Smith's killing set off weeks of protests in the Uptown neighborhood, with demonstrators clashing with police and rebuilding makeshift barriers that officers would tear down.
One woman, Deona Marie Knajdek Erickson, was killed during these protests when a driver jumped a barricade and crashed his car into a group of people. A St. Paul man is charged with second-degree murder in connection with her death.
The anger over Smith's shooting was compounded by a lack of clarity and sometimes conflicting information from authorities in the days that followed, with some calling for greater transparency from law enforcement. Skepticism of authorities' narrative of events remained high at the time, particularly in light of the Minneapolis Police Department's initial description of George Floyd's murder.