2013 incident sparked changes in how Mpls. handles police shootings

John Thompson arrives at the scene of an officer-involved shooting.
Authorities say a black man who was killed by Minneapolis police officers over the weekend had been shot multiple times and died as a result of those gunshot wounds.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP

All 13 members of the Minneapolis City Council are asking the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to release body camera video following the fatal police shooting of a black man Saturday in north Minneapolis. Body cameras are just one of the changes the department has made as a result of prior shootings.

It was five years ago last May when police chased a burglary suspect into the basement of a south Minneapolis home. After a brief confrontation, officers shot and killed Terrance Franklin, a 22-year-old African-American man.

At the time Minneapolis police said he attacked members of the SWAT team and tried to take one of their guns. After an internal investigation, the department found no wrongdoing on the part of its officers.

"As far as I'm concerned an outside agency should've handled it," said Mike Padden, an attorney for the Franklin family. Padden thinks the department never should have investigated itself.

The Franklin shooting would be the last time the Minneapolis Police Department investigated one of its own for a fatal shooting.

As a result of community uproar, then Police Chief JaneƩ Harteau instituted a new policy: the department would immediately hand off any officer-involved shooting investigation to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

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"Of course, whether the BCA is the appropriate agency is another issue, but I think we would all agree that an outside agency is better than having it handled internally," Padden said. "To have it handled internally is a joke."

Since the Franklin shooting, there have been other key changes for the Police Department: more training with an emphasis on de-escalation and a requirement that all officers wear body cameras.

City Council Member Linea Palmisano pushed the department to buy cameras and implement a policy that requires their use in many interactions with residents.

After last year's shooting of Justine Rusczyk by a police officer who had not turned on his body camera, she urged the department to toughen that policy.

The BCA said the officers who approached Thurman Blevins on Saturday had their body cameras rolling when the fatal shots were fired. Palmisano hopes the footage will answer key questions about the incident.

Protesters gather in front of the Minneapolis 4th police precinct.
Protesters gather in front of the Fourth Precinct in Minneapolis to protest the fatal shooting of Thurman Blevins.
Christopher Juhn for MPR News

"When the body camera becomes available, will it become evident how he came to be pursued as a suspect? Was a Taser used on him first? Was he really running away?" she said.

But it isn't just advocates for accountability who say body cameras are a good change for police.

Peter Wold, an attorney who has represented several officers involved in shootings, said they can vindicate police who have followed procedures for engaging with a threatening suspect.

"I've handled critical incidents for a couple of decades and the ones I've seen and the cases I've worked on have invariably justified the actions of the officers that were involved, so I think they've been helpful," he said.

While these cameras can capture incidents that would have gone unrecorded just a few years ago, Michelle Gross with Communities United Against Police Brutality said they don't guarantee transparency.

"The body cameras are only good for whatever access you have to them, and because police hold all the information, they get to control the narrative," Gross said. "Which is deeply unfair to the person who was killed, their family and the community."

The BCA typically does not release video and other evidence until an investigation is complete. But Palmisano said making the footage public as soon as possible could help ease concerns in the community about whether the officers' actions were justified.