Meeting with BCA shut down after family of man killed by police object

Thurman Blevins' sister Corey Blevins (center) confronts Justin Terrell.
Thurman Blevins' sister Corey Blevins, center, confronts Justin Terrell, wearing white, the executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, during a community meal and meeting held by Terrell's organization in Webber Park in north Minneapolis Thursday.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Updated: 7:07 a.m. | Posted: 5:26 a.m.

An unusual meeting with state investigators to discuss the shooting death of Thurman Blevins by Minneapolis police was shut down by organizers after his family objected Thursday.

Blevins, 31, was shot and killed on June 23 in north Minneapolis. His death has sparked criticism of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's investigation by activists and some members of Blevins' family.

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BCA Superintendent Drew Evans was scheduled to speak at the meeting about how the agency investigates police shootings. Evans left about halfway through as family members and supporters shouted for the meeting to be shut down.

Members of Blevins' family weren't consulted about the meeting in advance, said Blevins' cousin Rashaun Brown.

"It was kind of ugly. It wasn't intended," Brown said. "Nobody gave us the proper acknowledgement that, 'Hey, we're doing this event on behalf of you guys' family member.'"

Cousin Sydnee Brown said the family saw Blevins' body for the first time on Thursday. She said the BCA shouldn't have been at the meeting because the family hasn't seen the police body camera footage of the entire incident.

"The BCA shouldn't consult anything with any community if they haven't consulted with the family first," said Sydnee Brown.

The community discussion at Webber Park in north Minneapolis was sponsored by the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage and other community groups.

"What happened tonight is that the superintendent of the BCA got to see what happens when communities are struggling to deal with the legacy of police violence that yields no solutions, no answers, just pain," said council executive director Justin Terrell.

Drew Evans, the superintendent for the Minnesota BCA, sits quietly.
Drew Evans, the superintendent for the Minnesota BCA, sits during the meeting. Evans refused to comment when Blevins' family directed questions at him.
Lacey Young | MPR News

Terrell said the meeting's abrupt end wasn't a failure, but a step forward.

"It takes a lot of courage to come to a meeting and demand space and say, 'Look, I'm hurting,'" Terrell said. "The family of the man who was murdered got air time, they got to be in a room of people who support them, and I'm proud to facilitate that — it's their crisis."

Terrell said he did reach out to some family members, but that he's "sorry that some of them may have seen this meeting as insult."

Another of the meeting's sponsors was Minneapolis Mad Dads. The group's President V.J. Smith said his group wants to support the Blevins family.

"It's OK for people to be angry, it's OK for people to be upset," Smith said. "What's not OK is that we don't talk."

State Rep. Raymond Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, was in the crowd at the meeting. He said he'd propose changes to the statute that governs police use of deadly force.

"If you live outside of this community or if you don't know people or family members of individuals who have been shot by police, you just think, 'Well, they must have done something wrong, otherwise the police wouldn't have shot them,'" Dehn said. "Doing something wrong doesn't mean that cops have the right to shoot and kill you."

Minneapolis has released a transcript of a 911 call from the day of the shooting. The caller reported that a man was shooting a gun into the air and at the ground.

Blevins was sitting on the curb next to his girlfriend and young daughter when police approached. The BCA said Blevins fled when officers got out of their squad. They chased Blevins into a nearby alley where he was shot and killed by officers. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said he died of multiple gunshot wounds.

BCA investigators found a gun at the scene, according to the agency. Eyewitnesses who have come forward differ as to whether Blevins had a gun.

Both Minneapolis police officers, Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt, had their body cameras activated during the incident. They are on paid administrative leave as the investigation proceeds.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has said he'll release the body camera footage as soon as the BCA finishes interviewing key witnesses and after the family has given input. Some family members said the mayor's office told them they'll be shown the video before it's publicly released, but haven't said when that could be.

Blevins' family and supporters have called for more transparency in the investigation. His family remembered him at vigils and protests since the shooting as a dedicated father of three young girls. Corey Blevins remembered her brother as a jokester, who was generous to his friends and family.

"That's the main thing I'm going to miss is all the love and all the fun, all the jokes. I can just hear his playful goofy laugh in my head," Corey Blevins said. "Life is like that, you've got to laugh at the bad. And that's the epitome of what Junior was about."

Corey Blevins said the family wants answers.

"As a community, we have to know to work together," she said. "We just wanted it to be known that we demand justice."

Blevins' family is planning a public funeral Saturday at 11 a.m. at Faith Deliverance Holiness Church in Minneapolis.