After Minneapolis Winston Smith shooting, sheriff pulls deputies from US Marshals task force over bodycams

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A sheriff in Minnesota is pulling his deputies from a federal U.S. Marshals task force amid concerns about a lack of transparency after state investigators say there is no body-camera, dash-camera or surveillance footage of the fatal officer-involved shooting of a Black man in Minneapolis last week.

Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher said late Monday that his deputies will no longer participate in the U.S. Marshals North Star Fugitive Task Force “until body cameras are actually authorized.”

He made the decision days after 32-year-old Winston Boogie Smith Jr. was fatally shot in the top level of a parking ramp in Minneapolis’ Uptown neighborhood on June 3. Fletcher said neither the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office nor the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office was offered the opportunity to use body cameras until after Smith’s death. 

“The United States Marshals Service has been misleading in their public comments in the media. In Minnesota, the Marshals office has refused to allow us to wear body cameras since the advent of the technology and any new policy has not been implemented,” Fletcher said in a statement obtained by Fox 9 Minneapolis. “Despite regular requests from local law enforcement, the normal refrain from the Marshals office has been and continues to be ‘we’re working on the problem.’”

Fletcher said Minnesota’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Superintendent Drew Evans “can confirm this past history.” The BCA initially said the U.S. Marshal Service in Minnesota does not allow the use of body cameras for law enforcement officers serving on its North Star Fugitive Task Force. 

Fletcher said he received a memorandum from the Marshals office on Friday to allow the sheriff’s office to use body cameras, which he then signed and returned “believing they made a policy shift to allow for local law enforcement to use body cameras.” 

But then earlier Monday, he said he was surprised to receive a voicemail from U.S. Marshal Mona Dohman explaining, “it could take a while for this to get approved,” so deputies won’t be allowed to use body cameras “until the onboarding process has gone on.” 

“As a result of her voicemail, I have made the decision that Ramsey County Sheriff’s Deputies will not participate with the Marshals Fugitive Task Force until body cameras are actually authorized,” Fletcher said in his statement. 

A police officer holds a firearm as community members gather, Sunday, June 6, 2021, in Minneapolis, for Winston Boogie Smith Jr., who was fatally shot by members of a U.S. Marshals task force several days earlier. The Minneapolis Police Department forbids its officers from serving on task forces that do not permit them to wear their body cameras, Fox 9 Minneapolis reported. (AP Photo/Christian Monterrosa)

The police departments in Minneapolis and St. Paul currently forbid their officers from serving on task forces that do not permit them to wear body cameras, Fox 9 reported. 

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota said the Justice Department changed its policy last October to allow state, local, territorial and tribal task forces to use body-worn cameras “while serving arrest warrants or during other planned arrest operations and during the execution of search warrants.” 

In February, the policy started being phased in at the discretion of the U.S. Marshals Service. It was to apply to local and state law enforcement officers on federal task forces, but the Justice Department still continued to bar federal agents from using body cameras, arguing that video from the devices posed a risk of jeopardizing sensitive investigations.

U.S. Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco announced a reversal of that policy on Monday, saying that going forward that Justice Department will require federal agents to wear body cameras when executing arrest warrants or searching buildings, The Wall Street Journal reported. 

She directed the heads of federal law enforcement agencies to draft policies within 30 days that address when agents must use body cameras and how the footage should be stored and released. Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s office has been in contact with the White House and the Justice Department regarding Smith’s death, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. 

The BCA, which is investigating the shooting of Smith, said in a statement Friday that members of the U.S. Marshals fugitive task force were alerted to the whereabouts of Smith, who had a warrant for a felony firearms violation, and made contact with him in an attempt to take him into custody.

A preliminary investigation revealed that at one point a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy and a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy serving on the task force discharged their weapons, striking Smith, who was pronounced dead at the scene. BCA added that evidence at the scene indicates that Smith also fired his weapon from inside his vehicle. State crime scene personnel recovered a handgun and spent cartridge cases from inside the driver’s compartment, according to the bureau. 

Smith’s criminal record included 20 convictions, mostly for minor traffic and parking violations, plus three marijuana charges and an aggravated robbery conviction in which his ex-girlfriend’s face was beaten to a pulp, according to court documents.

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