The Minneapolis Police Department released body camera footage Thursday that shed new light on a fatal police shooting the night before, the first killing by a city police officer since George Floyd’s death in the spring.
The 28-second video shows a chaotic scene in which several police cars are blocking a driver from leaving the parking lot of a gas station. As an officer walks toward the car and yells for the driver to put his hands up, the man appears to raise something to his window and a loud bang can be heard. The driver’s window shatters, someone curses and the officer ducks for cover.
About two seconds later, the officer fires a shot at the man, followed by four more. About a dozen shots can be heard in all, but it is not clear from the video who fired the others.
Chief Medaria Arradondo said at a news conference Thursday afternoon that the officers had been conducting a “weapons investigation” when they stopped the car, and that a weapon was later found inside the sedan. Mayor Jacob Frey said the driver who was killed was a young Somali man.
Arradondo had vowed to quickly release the footage as a small group of protesters arrived at the scene in the hours after the shooting, saying he would not tolerate destructive demonstrations like the ones that took hold of the city for several nights after the police killed Floyd in May.
During that unrest, people burned down a police station and set restaurants and other businesses on fire, including a pawnshop where the charred remains of a man were later found inside. But after the shooting Wednesday night, protesters left the scene after only a few hours as temperatures dropped to single digits.
Arradondo said Thursday that he believed the body camera footage showed the man firing first at the officers, and he indicated that he thought the officers had been right to fire at the man.
“My officers were reacting to that deadly threat,” he said.
The incident began when the police tried to stop the vehicle in a parking lot of a gas station and carwash, about 1 mile from where Floyd was killed. The chief said the man was pronounced dead at the scene.
The video released Thursday begins with an officer stepping out of a vehicle and walking toward the driver of a white sedan who appears to be trying to flee. As the sedan pulls several feet away from the officer, its wheels spinning in the snow, the officer keeps moving toward the car and yells for the occupants to put their hands up. The gunshots can be heard after the driver puts the car in reverse and then stops.
Arradondo said a female passenger was in the man’s car and was not hurt.
The chief said he understood that the shooting would inevitably bring back painful memories for Minneapolis residents still working through the death of Floyd and the ensuing protests.
“A lot of us know that our communities have been dealing with so much this year,” he said, “with the pandemic, increase in violence, certainly many in our communities facing very hard times financially.”
Minneapolis is among many American cities that have struggled with rising violence since the coronavirus pandemic began. The Police Department recorded at least 81 homicides in 2020, the same number as in the previous two years combined, and data also show a spike in carjackings, assaults and robberies. The police killing was the second of the year, including Floyd’s death. Data from the city indicates that Minneapolis police shot at people 17 times from 2015 through 2019, killing someone in five circumstances.
Minneapolis was rocked by protests in the days and nights after May 25, when three police officers pinned Floyd to the pavement outside a convenience store. Those officers, as well as a fourth at the scene, were fired the next day, but the demonstrations grew for several nights until prosecutors charged Derek Chauvin, who had pressed his knee on Floyd’s neck, with second-degree manslaughter and third-degree murder. They soon added a more serious charge of second-degree murder and charged the three other officers at the scene with aiding and abetting Chauvin.
All of the former officers have pleaded not guilty. A trial is set for March, but prosecutors in the state attorney general’s office, which is prosecuting the case, filed a motion Thursday asking a judge to delay the trial until June, and lawyers for some of the fired officers have made similar requests.
City officials sought to show after the shooting Wednesday that they were taking a different approach after the calls for reform that followed Floyd’s death. Arradondo said he wanted residents “to see for themselves” what had happened, and Frey said in a statement that he was determined to be transparent about the shooting.
“Honesty and accountability are what will lead us forward,” he said.