Oct. 12 (UPI) — There will be no charges filed against undercover police officers involved in the shooting of a Black man in a Minneapolis parking ramp earlier this year, a prosecutor announced Monday.
Donald Ryan, chief prosecutor in rural Crow Wing County, Minnesota, said in a letter released Monday and obtained by KARE-TV that he will not bring charges against members of a multi-jurisdictional police task force who fatally shot Winston Smith on June 3.
Smith’s death in the shootout atop a ramp in Minneapolis’ popular Uptown entertainment and residential district triggered weeks of protests in the neighborhood as the city was still recovering from the widespread civil unrest triggered by the police slaying of George Floyd in 2020.
Tempers were frayed and tensions escalated further when a woman was killed and three others injured after a vehicle plowed into a group of demonstrators at the site. Nicholas Kraus, 35, was charged with second-degree intentional murder and two counts of second-degree assault in connection with the incident.
In his letter, dated Oct. 6 and addressed to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Ryan said his investigation into Smith’s shooting determined that the use of deadly force was justified.
Ryan, whose office in Brainerd, Minn., is 125 miles northwest of Minneapolis, was given the case amid questions of a possible conflict of interest in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office.
His findings backed claims made by police that Smith, 32, was armed and fired at members of the task force, which included Twin Cities-area deputies and U.S. Marshals Service agents, who were attempting to arrest him on a state warrant for being a felon in possession of a firearm.
Ryan said his probe could not determine who fired first, but called that distinction irrelevant since the officers’ conduct “was clearly in response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm.”
He said a handgun was located on the driver’s side of the car’s floor and that state police investigators detected Smith’s DNA on the weapon. Six spent .380 cartridges found inside the vehicle were determined to have been fired from the gun, Ryan wrote.
Police recorded no body camera footage of the incident and refused to name the officers involved. A female companion who was present in the car during the shootout asserted she did not see Smith with a weapon.
Smith’s family continued to voice doubts about the justification for the shooting.
“They had no reason to kill this man,” cousin Marshawn Cheeks told the Star Tribune, adding, “It’s very relevant who fired first.