Group hopes body camera ruling leads to change in other Minnesota cases

A state trooper holds a body camera
A Minnesota state trooper holds a law enforcement body camera during a Minnesota Department of Public Safety news conference in December.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety

A Ramsey County District Court judge has ordered the Minnesota Department of Public Safety to release video of a shooting involving law enforcement officers in Morrison County last April that left a man dead.

At the time, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said members of the multi-agency West Central Minnesota Drug and Violent Crime Task Force had tried to stop a vehicle, and that “at one point after” the attempted stop, a state trooper and an Otter Tail County deputy fired on that vehicle.

The man inside the vehicle, later identified as 59-year-old Charles Bangs of Fergus Falls, was killed.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said soon after the shooting that the state trooper “was wearing a body camera and had a working squad camera, both of which captured portions of the incident.”

The group Communities United Against Police Brutality sued for the release of the video. Last week's ruling from Judge Mark Ireland granted CUAPB’s motion to release the video, but said any images of an undercover law enforcement officer should be blurred, and any mention of an undercover officer's name should be redacted.

A representative of CUAPB said the group hopes the ruling will lead to more timely releases of law enforcement body camera video in use-of-force cases.

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“[It] doesn’t create a precedent in the sense that an appellate court decision does, where it's precedential and they have to follow it,” said Paul Bosman, an attorney for the group. “It's what we call persuasive that a judge who is faced with the same situation, can look at what happened in this case and say, ‘OK, based on that I don't have to do what they say but it creates a persuasive argument that I should do what has happened in this other case.’”

No criminal charges were filed in the Bangs shooting death, but Bosman said the body camera footage could be helpful in possible wrongful death civil litigation.

Public safety officials have until late February to comply with the ruling by releasing the video.

In a statement, the Department of Public Safety said it “initially withheld video evidence in this case as a result of open criminal investigations beyond the law enforcement-involved shooting. DPS will work diligently to ensure the release of that video occurs as soon as possible, and within the 30 days required by the court’s order.”