August 18, 2018 07:27 PM
WARNING: Parts of the video above have been edited, but some viewers may still find them disturbing.
Authorities released body camera footage showing the fatal shooting of a 43-year-old man by St. Paul police officers earlier this month.
The announcement came at a press conference Friday afternoon.
St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell said he watched the footage with family members of William Hughes prior to its release.
"Officer-involved shootings are absolutely heart-wrenching for everyone involved," Axtell said. "I've met with family members of Mr. Hughes, I've met with officers and I've met with members of our community.
"And I can tell you, everybody is affected by this tragedy."
Officers Vincent Adams and Matthew Jones were responding to reports of a man firing a weapon inside a home at 905 St. Anthony Avenue on Aug. 5 when they shot and killed Hughes.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said the officers entered the enclosed porch area of the home and knocked on one of two doors when Hughes emerged through the other.
Videos from both officers were shown at Friday's press conference.
Both videos show a man walk out of a door onto the porch, with a gun clearly visible in his right hand. Officers can be heard yelling at him to put his hands up multiple times. He puts one hand, with the gun, in the air.
Officers open fire and Hughes falls with his hand still up.
In both videos, an officer swearing is audible, as well as an officer reporting shots fired.
Hughes was pronounced dead at the scene.
"What goes through my mind is the unbelievable responsibilities that police officers have is something most people will never be able to relate to, understanding that officers have to make split-second decisions when lives are on the line," said Axtell. "When that trigger is pulled and a life is lost those officers will never be the same."
KSTP asked Axtell if he believes the officers were justified in using deadly force.
"The legal justification can only be made in Ramsey County by County Attorney Choi," said Axtell.
Earlier in the press conference he said the officers were threatened.
"As they investigated, they discussed how to best determine if anyone in the residence had heard anything and a short time later Officer Adams knocked on the interior door of the porch," said Axtell. "A man can be heard saying, 'I will kill you.'"
Axtell said the video was being released even as the BCA investigation remains open and active. But he said he was told earlier this week that the BCA had finished all of their key interviews.
He said he supported releasing the video now to prevent the potential spread of misinformation.
"That puts our officers in jeopardy if some community members believe officers are killing people unnecessarily, when in fact that couldn't be more not the case at this time," Axtell said.
He told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS watching the footage with Hughes' family before releasing it to the public left a mark on him.
Axtell said Hughes' family told him that Hughes was a good man but in pain. They are heartbroken but gave the chief two cards, one for each officer.
"This is the first time in my 30-year career I’ve ever seen such grace by a family that has been met with such a tragedy," he said.
The St. Paul Police Federation released a statement praising the officer's actions and criticizing the decision to release the video so soon.
"We believe our officers involved acted heroically and are proud of them. This video is some of the evidence that demonstrates their professionalism and dedication to protecting innocent lives in our community," federation president David Titus said in a post to the federation's Facebook page.
"However, we also believe the department should not have released this video outside of the context of a complete and thorough investigation. The officers, family, and society deserve the complete story and not a piecemeal release of evidence. "
Adams and Jones are on paid leave, which is standard procedure during officer-involved shootings.
Hughes' aunt, Kathy Ficken, said earlier this month that he was a person who, "lived his own life and loved people around him all the time."
"He was a really good kid growing up," Ficken said. "And we just want to know when all of this is going to stop. And yes, we would like the police body camera video of the shooting released right away."
On Aug. 7, Axtell promised to release the body camera footage within 10 days, a period which was completed Friday.
In a statement Friday afternoon, the Ramsey County Attorney's Office said a decision on whether or not the officers would face charges has not yet been made because the investigation remains ongoing:
"The death of William Hughes, captured on video, is difficult to watch," the statement from county attorney John Choi said. "My heart goes out to Mr. Hughes' family and friends and the two police officers who were involved in this shooting. Undoubtedly, the release of this video will engender a wide variety of feelings in our community, including sadness, anger and confusion.
"It will be the job of this office to analyze all of the evidence gathered through the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's (BCA) investigation and decide whether the use of lethal force was justified under the law. While the video that the public will see today is one critical piece of evidence, it does not tell the entire story. The testimony of the officers involved in the shooting, the friend of William Hughes who called 911 and other key facts are crucial to truly understanding what happened that night.
"I want to assure the public that we will be thorough in our work. We will utilize the resources and time necessary to make the right decision, recognizing that any decision we make may be difficult for some people in our community to accept. Our goals are to seek the truth, remain faithful to the law, uphold the integrity of the process, and to conduct our work without bias, fear or favor.
"In the interest of speeding up our decision-making timeline, I have asked my team of prosecutors to conduct our prosecution review simultaneously with the BCA's investigation, which includes consulting independent use-of-force and police procedure experts. To enable all of this to happen, the BCA has agreed to present us evidence as they collect it. We are receiving information from them on a daily basis, so I am confident we will have what we need to make our decision more quickly than in past officer-involved shooting incidents we have reviewed."
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter also released a statement on the matter:
"The body camera footage of Billy Hughes' death is heartbreaking. I extend my sincere condolences to the Hughes family, to every grieving member of our community, and to Officers Adams and Jones, who were called last week to respond to a situation no officer would ever hope to encounter," the statement read.
"A fatal officer-involved shooting is one of the toughest challenges a city can face. I commend the Hughes family for their grace in the face of crisis. I commend Chief Axtell and the Saint Paul Police Department for setting a new bar for transparency by releasing this footage today, and I commend the BCA for their swift and thorough approach to guiding us toward justice through their ongoing investigation.
"All of Saint Paul is united today in mourning Billy Hughes, and in wishing this terrible incident had never happened. As we process the range of emotions his death evokes, I remain committed to building community, and to ensuring our officers are equipped with the tools, resources, and trust they need to help us keep our neighborhoods safe."
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Hughes' death marked the third fatal shooting by law enforcement in the Twin Cities this summer.
On June 23, officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt shot and killed 31-year-old Thurman Blevins in North Minneapolis.
The officers were responding to a report of a man firing a gun into the air. According to the BCA and body camera footage, they found Blevins on a street corner near 48th and Camden Avenues.
As officers approached Blevins, he ran.
"Please don't shoot me," Blevins is heard saying on the officers' body camera footage. "Leave me alone."
Body camera footage shows Blevins had a gun, and the BCA said a gun was recovered from the scene.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman announced no charges would be filed against Kelly and Schmidt in Blevins' shooting.
In Chanhassen on July 13, Corporal Jacob Hodge and Deputy Travis Larson of the Carver County Sheriff's Office shot 16-year-old Archer Amorosi after his mother called 911 and said he wanted "to get in like a showdown with the police."
"He wants to, he wants them to shoot him," Kara Amorosi said. "He's gonna do something bad."
BCA investigators recovered a hatchet and a handgun-style BB gun near Archer Amorosi's body.
Anthony Brousseau, Frank Rajkowski & Callan Gray
Updated: August 18, 2018 07:27 PM
Created: August 11, 2018 08:41 AM
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