Winston Smith killing: Prosecutor says deadly force justified, no charges

Task Force Shooting Minneapolis
Kidale Smith, brother of Winston Smith, holds a "Justice for Winston Smith" poster on June 10 during a press conference in Minneapolis. Members of a law enforcement unit who killed Winston Smith atop a Minneapolis parking garage in June will not face charges.
Aaron Lavinsky | Star Tribune via AP File

Members of a law enforcement unit who killed Winston Smith atop a Minneapolis parking garage in June will not face charges. A central Minnesota prosecutor who reviewed the case said Monday that the use of deadly force against Smith was justified.

Officers in a task force including Twin Cities deputies and U.S. Marshals Service agents were attempting to arrest Smith, who was wanted on a state warrant for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

People march down a street
People march down Lake Street in Uptown Minneapolis on June 13 after a rally calling for justice for Winston Smith. Smith was fatally shot by law enforcement officers in an Uptown parking ramp on June 3.
Jon Collins | MPR News

The initial statement from the Marshals Service said Smith didn't comply with law enforcement to get out of the parked car and “produced a handgun resulting in task force members firing upon the subject.”

The officers who shot Smith were later described as Ramsey and Hennepin County deputies. Their names have not been released and authorities have said there was no body camera video of the incident.

The other person in the car with Smith told law enforcement on the scene she did not remember seeing that Smith had a gun. She repeated that later through her attorneys.

Amid questions of a possible conflict of interest in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office, the case was given to Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan to review for any possible charges against the deputies who shot Smith.

In a letter released to the public on Monday, Ryan said Smith refused to comply with commands to get out of the car and that as the task force members broke the window glass to try and pull him out, “Smith dropped his phone, twisted his body and leaned over to the vehicle's center console ... and appeared to be reaching for something in the back seat.”

Funeral services for Winston Smith
A person holds a photo of Winston Smith during his funeral services on June 12.
Kerem Yücel for MPR News file

According to the report, one of the deputies yells that Smith is reaching for a gun before he fires on Smith. A second deputy trying to break the car glass then pulls his weapon and fires at Smith. The report says the second deputy did not see a gun, but acted based on the other task force member’s reaction and the sound of breaking glass.

Ryan’s public letter said a handgun was located on the driver side floor between the seat and the door area with a live cartridge in the chamber but with the magazine empty. It concludes that Smith “initiated a deadly force confrontation with the TF (task force) by drawing his handgun and firing at the TF.”

The report, though, doesn’t say Smith grabbed the weapon and pointed it toward the officers, only that a weapon was found and there was evidence that shots were fired from inside the car into the driver’s side door.

Ryan wrote that he was unable to determine who fired first, but called that irrelevant in this case, saying the officers’ conduct “was clearly in response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm.”

An officer, he said, “does not have to wait to be shot/shot at before reacting.”

The Ryan report also said the woman who was in the car with Smith can be heard on a body camera saying that she pleaded with Smith to put up his hands and cooperate but that Smith responded he was not going back to jail and would die.

The report, however, does not identify the source of the body camera footage.

Hennepin County and Crow Wing County authorities have declined further comment on the matter beyond Ryan’s published remarks.

On Tuesday, Smith's sister Tieshia Floyd said she has yet to see any evidence to back those assertions and that she has never trusted the official narrative.

"I don't see how my brother could have been a threat in a parked car,” she said.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published at 3:55 p.m. on Monday and later updated.

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