Libor Jany and Alex Chhith
MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis police officers shot and killed a man during a felony traffic stop and a tense crowd gathered at the scene in south Minneapolis.
The police killing was the first in Minneapolis since the May 25 death of George Floyd by four since-fired police officers, which spurred widespread unrest and rioting that spread nationwide and prompted an intense and often bitter debate about the future of the Minneapolis Police Department.
The shooting occurred about 6:15 p.m. at the Holiday gas station at E. 36th Street and Cedar Avenue. In a hastily called news conference late Wednesday at City Hall, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said that it was not yet clear who fired first and that body camera footage will resolve that question. A bullet hole was spotted in a squad car at the scene.
Arradondo said he would move quickly to release body cam footage, likely Thursday. He also pleaded with protesters to remain peaceful and to allow Bureau of Criminal Apprehension investigators to do their work, saying that his officers would respect the constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech, but that “we cannot allow for destructive criminal behavior, our city has gone through too much.”
“As chief, I recognize the trauma that our city has been under, and we want to do everything we can to maintain the peace,” he said.
The officers involved were members of the Community Response Team, or CRT, a specialized unit focused on high-crime areas, drugs and prostitution, police spokesman John Elder said.
“Those officers have all been isolated and they’re waiting to be interviewed” by the BCA, Elder said.
The shooting came at a time when city leaders are debating how to change policing and public safety following Floyd’s death, struggling to balance competing demands, some from people who want them to abolish the department, and others from people asking for more officers as they struggle to reduce crime during an especially violent year.
According to emergency dispatch audio, an officer radioed immediately after the shooting: “Shots fired! Officer needs help!”
“We have two people inside the vehicle, one male is down, we still have one female in the car with her hands up,” the officer said.
“We need perimeter, we need perimeter!” an officer said, keeping Cedar clear for medics. They called for no more squads in the parking lot of a Holiday gas station, blocking entrances except for emergency crews. Officers were advised to keep their body cameras turned on.
About an hour after the shooting a crowd began to gather at the scene while roads remained closed and yellow crime-scene tape surrounded the area. The crowd began demanding more information and shouting at police, and soon began to grow.
One officer over dispatch said more than 100 people had gathered and that the crowd was growing. Bricks were thrown at police and one squad car being surrounded.
An officer asked at one point for permission to use a 40-mm launcher because “they are starting to throw ice balls at us.” Launchers are authorized only “to stop imminent physical harm to officers,” per dispatch.
“Can you clarify what is authorized at this point?” one officer asked. They were told handheld aerosol could be used to stop “assaultive conduct.”
“Just had a snowball thrown at us. … This crowd is extremely close and hostile towards police. … If they choose to storm past us, we do not have the resources to hold this crowd back.”
Around 9:40 p.m. dispatch reported a bonfire in the middle of the street of 36th and Cedar. Shortly afterward, officers reported that some people were donning gas masks.
After criticism of how police handled protests related to Floyd’s death, the city entered an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that, among other things, limited who in the department could authorize the use of “crowd control weapons.” It included in that definition “chemical agents, rubber bullets, flash-bangs, batons, and marking rounds.” Under the new rules, only the chief could authorize their use.
The deal came after the Department of Human Rights filed a civil rights charge against the city related to Floyd’s death and announced that it was investigating whether the police department had engaged in racial discrimination.
Shortly after Floyd’s death, a majority of City Council members promised to work toward “ending” the Minneapolis Police Department, though they had varying ideas on how to do that. In the months since, they have cut roughly $9 million from the police department’s budget, often by moving the money to other city services, such as violence prevention programs. They could choose to offset some of those cuts next year as they debate key issues, such as whether to approve additional recruit classes meant to help amid an officer shortage or to release funding for officers’ overtime.
(Staff writers Kim Hyatt and Liz Navratil contributed to this report.)
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