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Woman in car with Winston Smith says he raised his cellphone, not a gun

Investigators claim Smith showed a weapon before sheriff's deputies fatally shot him.

The woman who was in the car with Winston Smith when law enforcement fatally shot him on June 3 in Minneapolis maintains he was holding a phone, not a gun as officials have alleged.

At a news conference Thursday, 27-year-old Norhan Askar's attorneys Christopher Nguyen and Racey Rodne read a statement describing Askar's experience when "people with guns" surrounded her and Smith after their lunch date. 

Askar and Smith, 32, had been dating for several weeks after meeting more than six months prior via mutual friends. They went to Stella's Fish Cafe in Uptown for lunch, where they "enjoyed each other's company" and then walked back and got into Smith's car, which was parked at the top of a nearby parking ramp. 

That's when they were "suddenly surrounded by unmarked cars and people with guns," noting the people were not dressed in sheriff or police officer uniforms.

"They yelled commands and did not announce themselves as law enforcement of any kind," Nguyen said, according to Askar. "While yelling commands for them to put their hands up, multiple armed people targeted their weapons upon Ms. Askar and Mr. Smith."

Askar complied and was "scared for her life," he added, noting Smith had a cellphone and began to Facebook Live.

"As he raised his phone, all Ms. Askar could hear was gunfire and saw Mr. Smith's body slump over," Nguyen said.

After the "barrage of bullets," law enforcement pulled her out of the car, handcuffed her and put her in the back of an unmarked car, Nguyen said, noting she was handcuffed until an ambulance arrived to give her medical attention.

"An officer later asked her how her date was," Nguyen said. 

"Our client never saw a gun in the car and, to be clear, she never saw Winston Smith in possession of a gun," Nguyen said.

That's different from what the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has said about what happened. 

Law enforcement members serving on a U.S. Marshal's joint task force were attempting to take Smith into custody for a warrant related to him missing a court appearance being a felon in possession of a gun when he "produced a handgun," the BCA said. 

That's when a Ramsey County and a Hennepin County sheriffs deputy – who were both undercover so they won't be named publicly — "discharged their weapons," striking Smith. 

The BCA said there was evidence Smith fired a weapon from inside the vehicle but hasn't said which party fired first. And search warrants filed in court claim law enforcement found a gun and ammunition in Smith's car. 

Related [June 5]: BCA: Undercover agents fatally shot Winston Smith; no video found

Meanwhile, no bodycam, squad cam, or surveillance footage of the incident exists, according to authorities, which makes it difficult to verify the various accounts of what happened. 

"Our client continues to heal. She is experiencing a roller coaster of emotions related to this case, and even being in a car brings significant anxiety," Nguyen said, noting she continues to take glass out of her skin, which she was sprayed with when law enforcement shot at Smith. 

Lawsuit coming

Askar's attorneys will be filing a lawsuit against all the agencies involved, accusing them of violating her civil rights, Rodne said, noting the agencies have shown no transparency or accountability since the shooting. 

Related [June 11]: Growing calls for transparency over law enforcement killing of Winston Smith

Rodne also said the BCA failed to do a gunshot residue test on Smith, which he says could have provided evidence to assist in figuring out if Smith had a gun and reinforce Askar's version of events. 

BCA spokesperson Jill Oliveria told the Star Tribune the BCA didn't ask the medical examiner to test Smith for gunshot residue because it wouldn't have provided conclusive evidence on whether Smith handled or shot a gun, noting when guns are shot in close proximity from inside and outside a vehicle, it's not possible to determine which gun the residue came from.  

The lack of clarity and sometimes conflicting information about Smith's death, including from Askar who has said multiple times she did not see him produce a gun, has prompted calls for greater transparency, with some community groups also demanding the head of the U.S. Marshals Service in Minnesota resign. There is also skepticism over law enforcement's narrative of events, in light of the Minneapolis Police Department's initial description of George Floyd's murder.

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