Use of Force Expert Weighs in on Fatal St. Paul Police Shooting Body Cam Footage

August 17, 2018 10:15 PM

Authorities released body camera footage Friday showing the fatal shooting of a 43-year-old man by St. Paul police officers earlier this month.

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 William Hughes.


Police Chief Todd Axtell says releasing this video was a decision he did not take lightly. 

RELATED: St. Paul Police Release Body Camera Footage in William Hughes Shooting

"I hope these videos will provide context, perspective and clarity," said Axtell. 

Axtell said Friday he's releasing this footage for a few reasons, including transparency and officer safety.

"I have watched people repeat widespread rumors, I have seen protesters in the street and I know public angst can endanger our officers," Axtell said. 

While Axtell did not comment on the video, 5 EYEWITNESS showed the footage to a use of force expert and consultant, David Blake, to take us through frame by frame. 

GRAPHIC VIDEO: Police Body Camera Footage of Fatal Shooting of William Hughes

"It's very clear that he should be aware that his actions are placing himself in a pretty bad situation," said David Blake, a use of force expert. "One of the last commands that I heard was, 'put it down,' and that's very proximal to when the weapon starts to come up."

Blake stresses the very moment as Hughes raises his hands marks a crucial moment in the investigation.

"At 400 milliseconds the barrel was pointed directly in the direction of one of those officers based on the body cam perspective," Blake said. "At some point they make a decision to shoot based off of that threat."

Blake says it's important to slow the video down.

RELATED: BCA Officially Identifies Those Involved in St. Paul Officer-Involved Shooting

"You really have to look at these things frame by frame," Blake said. "Is it reasonable for a police officer in this situation to believe that his life is in jeopardy and I believe after looking at that from the police officer's perspective not knowing all the facts or circumstances that an officer would believe their life is in jeopardy in that moment."

Some believe Hughes was obeying officers' commands to simply raise his hands. 

The ACLU of Minnesota responded in a statement, saying:

"We understand the need in dangerous situations such as these to ensure everybody's safety. Police need to be better trained on how to secure the area and deescalate the situation first. If that had happened for Billy Hughes, he might still be alive."

RELATED: Sources: Man Killed in St. Paul Officer-Involved Shooting Verbally Threatened Police, Raised Handgun

The New North, a community group, agrees, saying in a statement:

"In the early hours of August 5th, Saint Paul Police Department officers Vincent Adams and Matthew Jones responded to a call of a man firing a gun in a triplex on the 900 block of St. Anthony Avenue in Saint Paul, MN. The Body Worn Camera footage was released earlier today and first we would like to thank Mayor Melvin Carter for his swiftness in releasing the footage. He seems to understand the need for immediate transparency and we are grateful for his efforts.

"Secondly, we view this incident as another mental health crisis that has gone terribly wrong for the afflicted individual during their interaction with police officers. Use of Force policies must be revisited.

"The footage shows Officers Adams and Jones on the porch/entryway of the triplex when Hughes answers the door. He comes out of the doorway, with a handgun in his right hand. He is told to put his hands up, but he is shot with a hail of bullets in less than 2 seconds. Sadly, in that short amount of time, he raises his hands in the air only to be gunned down while complying.

"Officers knew they were responding to a call of a man with a gun; and as Ramsey County Attorney John Choi has said in the past: "the mere mention or presence of a firearm alone cannot justify the use of deadly force."

"We understand that responding to calls regarding people with firearms are difficult and scary for police officers. But we continue to be extremely concerned that the mere presence of a firearm is basically a "License to Kill" for police officers.

"Use of Force policies need to be revised; especially pertaining to individuals who are afflicted with mental illness(es). We were the only ones concerned about the language before when everyone else praised the changes. People with mental illnesses must be treated with the same respect as others. Responses must be revamped. It appeared that Mr. Hughes did not exhibit an intent to shoot. He had no time to fully comply before he was shot multiple times. We are sad for him, his family, friends, and loved ones, and all who have been affected by this tragic incident. We must find a way to move forward as a community so we can break this cycle."

"Our officers do not choose these situations," Axtell said. 

RELATED: Family, Community Organization Identifies Man Killed in St. Paul Officer-Involved Shooting

Axtell stresses he won't risk compromising an investigation by releasing this type of evidence. But in the future, he hopes similar body cam footage could be released within 72 hours. 

"That would be the best case scenario down the road," Axtell said. 

Axtell said the family of William Hughes requested privacy, but he added that they gave two cards to the officers involved in this shooting.

"This is the first time in my 30-year career that I've ever seen such grace by a family who's been met with such a tragedy," Axtell said. 
The BCA has completed all of their interviews, but this is still an active and open investigation. 


Brett Hoffland

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