July 27, 2018 11:01 PM
An audio recording, obtained by 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS, captured the final moments before Thurman Blevins was killed by police in North Minneapolis last month.
On the recording, you can hear police commands, responses to those commands, followed by the sound of shots being fired.
Minneapolis Police officers were called to the Camden neighborhood at approximately 5:30 p.m. on June 23 after at least one report of a man firing a gun into the air.
Law enforcement officials say Blevins, 31, was armed when he ran from officers to an alley behind the 4700 block of Bryant Avenue North.
A homeowner's surveillance camera captured the audio of the end of the chase.
It's the first recording the public will hear of what happened that afternoon.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS has confirmed it's one of the tapes the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension is reviewing as evidence.
However, this recording is only one piece of the investigation. It does not explain why officers Ryan Kelly and Justin Schmidt fired their weapons nor does it make clear whether Blevins was armed.
It also does not show the actions of Blevins or the officers.
But, the tense moments captured on this recording do allow the public to hear some of what was said right before shots were fired.
It is a graphic recording with graphic language and may be disturbing to some people.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS obtained the recording from a homeowner whose camera records 24 hours a day. The microphone picked up the last 29 seconds of the altercation.
The homeowner shared it with us under the condition we would protect their identity and only share the audio, not the video.
However, the homeowner allowed the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS investigative team to watch the video several times. It shows driveways and parked vehicles but the video does not show the MPD officers or Blevins. It remains unclear where they were standing in the alley or how close together they were.
There are parts of the recording that are hard to understand.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS asked Minnetonka-based Computer Forensic Services, an information technology firm that works with law enforcement and government agencies, to analyze the audio.
CFS says they normalized the audio, a process that amplifies the quieter parts to the same volume as the peaks in the audio.
CFS determined, even after enhancement, parts of this recording are still unintelligible.
But, according to CFS, it's clear at least one officer gave commands, a second party responded, followed by more than eight gunshots.
5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reached out to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension multiple times about the recording and whether its release would interfere with the investigation.
However, the BCA would not comment on it.
To explain how an audio recording could fit into the broader investigation of the shooting, we reached out to retired police officer David Blake who currently works as a law enforcement consultant in California.
Blake said an audio recording lacks crucial context, but when it's compared to other evidence, the communication and sounds recorded can help establish important patterns.
"For me, establishing the fact pattern, placing all of the evidence together, is the most important," Blake said. "Having one piece of evidence, whether it's video or eyewitness testimony, they all have their faults. So without putting those pieces together to support each other, that's your best piece. Getting that big view."
Blake says audio recordings, eyewitness statements, shell casings and video are all pieces of evidence that can create a broader view for investigators.
Cincinnati-based civil rights attorney Al Gerhardstein also cautions the community that this audio recording does not tell the full story of what happened.
He's been doing police litigation for 40 years.
"That video, that audio is just one piece that could turn out to out to be very helpful," Gerhardstein said. "But, people need to understand, the importance of it, the value of it, won't be known until all of the other evidence is revealed."
More evidence could be released soon.
Mayor Jacob Frey says he expects to release the police body camera footage by the end of July, which is this coming Tuesday.
Following the shooting, Frey said he would wait to release the body cam video until the BCA finishes interviewing witnesses and Blevins' family is notified.
Kevin Short, the attorney representing Schmidt, provided 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS with the following statement.
"On June 23rd two Minneapolis Police Officers were forced to use deadly force as a result of the actions of Thurman Blevins. I represent Officer Justin Schmidt. Robert Paule represents Officer Ryan Kelly. Officers Schmidt and Kelly fulfilled their oaths to protect and serve and should be commended, not vilified, for their bravery in so doing. While this is a tragic situation for the family and friends of Mr. Blevins, that does not take away from the fact that what happened was dictated by the actions of Mr. Blevins.
"It is difficult to draw any intelligent conclusions about what happened on June 23rd until the BCA investigation is completed and their evidence is reviewed. A muddled audio recording from a camera in the neighborhood does little to shed light on what happened.
"The use of deadly force by these two officers was clearly justified. Their independent decisions to use deadly force arose from their belief that Mr. Blevins was going to kill them. The BCA investigation will reveal that Mr. Blevins was armed, had discharged his weapon, ran from the police with that weapon, and pulled his weapon out of his pocket as the police were pursuing him.
"Officers Schmidt and Ryan have cooperated with the investigation into this matter from its inception. They each provided detailed recorded statements to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension not long after the shooting."
Blevins Family Reacts
This afternoon KSTP contacted a number of relatives of Thurman Blevins to hear the last 29 seconds of the interaction between Blevins and officers Kelly and Schmidt. Thurman's sister Darlynn Blevins spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS after listening to the audio.
"I feel that he wasn't a threat to them. He was really, really sincerely saying don't shoot me," she said. "He didn't have any threat to these policemen to say, 'Here I am, kill me.' He was telling them, 'I want to live, please don't shoot me.'"
Darlynn Blevins said the shooting was an unnecessary tragedy.
"I would say they were very wrong in what they did. And I wish for them to be prosecuted because shouldn't nobody have to beg for their life, nobody," she said.
"And even with us going to see my brother at the viewing he had to wear sunglasses because of his eyes was messed up. And I couldn't even see my brother in his actual form because of what they did to him. He wasn't the same person that I knew and that I grew up with, they disfigured him."
Tim Vetscher, Callan Gray & Todd Wilson
Updated: July 27, 2018 11:01 PM
Created: July 27, 2018 02:19 PM
Copyright 2018 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company