Some question whether black man shot by police had gun

U.S. & World

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Some community members are disputing authorities’ account that a black man had a gun before he was fatally shot by Minneapolis police, but a man who heard the shooting and saw the immediate aftermath said he saw a firearm near Thurman Blevins Jr.’s hand.

The differing narratives prompted community leaders and officials to call for the swift release of body camera footage.

Blevins, 31, of Minneapolis, was shot and killed Saturday after a foot chase with police through a north Minneapolis alley. Authorities said he was armed, and the head of the police union said Blevins pulled out his gun before two officers shot him. An autopsy shows Blevins died from multiple gunshot wounds.

On Monday, friends stopped by a memorial in the alley to pay respects to Blevins — known as Jun. A day earlier, demonstrators protested at the local police station and at a gay pride parade in Minneapolis.

Investigators say police were responding to at least one 911 call Saturday evening about a man firing a handgun outside. Officers arrived to find Blevins sitting with a woman on a curb. As officers got out of their car, Blevins ran, carrying a black and silver gun. Officers chased him for several blocks.

Investigators from the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said there is body camera footage of the shooting. On Monday, all 13 members of Minneapolis’ City Council signed a petition asking for the release of the footage “as soon as possible.”

In Minnesota, investigative data is typically nonpublic until an investigation concludes. But state laws allow for the release of material like body camera footage if it’s deemed a benefit to the public or if it dispels “widespread rumor or unrest.”

Bob Kroll, head of the Minneapolis police union, said Monday that officers repeatedly demanded that Blevins drop the gun and he didn’t. He said officers were threatened and forced to shoot, adding that body camera video “will dispel all the false narratives that are out there and it will corroborate that the officers had no other alternative.”

A man who lives nearby said he heard officers yell, “Drop the gun!” multiple times before a series of gunshots. Robert Lang said he just finished mowing his lawn when he heard commotion. He went toward his alley, but heard the officers so stayed behind his garage.

He then heard two or three gunshots, followed by a lull, then more gunshots — perhaps 10 in total. After the shooting stopped, he saw Blevins lying in the alley, blood pooling underneath him.

“Within a couple of feet on his right-hand side, there was a black automatic handgun,” Lang said. One of the officers approached Blevins and kicked the gun away.

Authorities said Sunday that a black and silver handgun was recovered from the scene. Authorities were interviewing witnesses and planned to release the officers’ names after they provided statements.

Several people disputed the police account and called for transparency. The Minneapolis NAACP wrote in a Facebook post that witnesses said Blevins didn’t have a gun and had been drinking out of a cup. The group also called Monday for body camera footage to be released quickly.

Jerome Peters, a friend of Blevins, said: “They think the community is ignorant. We’re not as dumb as they treat us. We know there was foul play. There are things they’re trying to conceal.”

Friends of Blevins said he liked working on bikes and cars and was an expert at painting them. He looked out for kids in the neighborhood and gave them snack money.

Blevins was on probation for a 2015 incident in which he spat in a police officer’s face and kicked the officer in the legs and groin. He wasn’t allowed to have a gun. Blevins also had multiple convictions for drug possession, drunken driving and illegally possessing a firearm.

Minneapolis has been rocked by two high-profile fatal police shootings in recent years, including the November 2015 shooting of 24-year-old Jamar Clark and last July’s shooting of 40-year-old Justine Ruszczyk Damond . Officers in the Clark case were not charged, and trial is pending for the officer who shot Damond.

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