Woman never saw a gun on Winston Smith before he was fatally shot by sheriff's deputies in MinneapolisChristine FernandoUSA TODAY
A woman who was with Winston Smith, a Black man shot and killed by two sheriff's deputies in Minneapolis earlier this month, said through her attorneys that she never saw Smith display a gun, contradicting law enforcement's narrative of the shooting.
“She never saw a gun on Winston Smith, and she never saw a gun inside the vehicle at any time,” Racey Rodne, an attorney for the woman, said during a Thursday news conference.
The woman's account contradicts law enforcement and investigators' claims that Smith displayed a handgun before officers opened fire. State investigators have also said a handgun and spent cartridge found inside the car indicate that Smith fired his gun.
Officers from six law enforcement agencies, including Hennepin and Ramsey County sheriff’s offices, were part of a U.S. Marshals Service task force that attempted to arrest Smith on June 3 for illegal possession of a firearm.
State investigators have said the names of the two Hennepin and Ramsey County deputies who shot Winston Smith, 32, during an attempted arrest on June 3 will not be released because they were working undercover.
'I will protect my brother's name':Family of Minneapolis man killed by deputies demand accountability
The shooting of Smith prompted a renewed wave of protests in a city that has been on edge since the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was pinned to ground last year by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Protests also followed the fatal police shooting of Black motorist Daunte Wright in the nearby suburb of Brooklyn Center in April.
The attorneys did not release the name of the woman who was on a lunch date with Smith and asked the public to respect her privacy as she recovers from "this profound trauma." The U.S. Marshals said the woman had suffered injuries from broken glass resulting from the shooting, but her attorneys did not speak on her physical injuries.
"We are hopeful claims of commitment to progress, and transparency and accountability by the BCA and other law enforcement agencies since the murder of George Floyd will be borne out through their actions as we work to shine light on on why Winston Smith lost his life last Thursday while on a lunch date," Christopher Nguyen, one of the attorneys, said.
The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the investigation, said it is not aware of any video footage of the shooting and asked for any bystanders who captured video to come forward. The U.S. Marshals Service does not allow body cameras for officers on this task force.
Activists and Smith's family have raised concerns over the lack of footage as they demanded transparency and accountability.
High-profile civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Jeff Storms, who have represented Floyd's family, said they are now representing Smith's family. Storms raised concerns at the news conference over "a lack of transparency by the lack of body cameras."
"We now ask for the government to come forward and show us what they have to support this narrative that they created which … was now contradicted here today," he said.
Nekima Levy Armstrong, a civil rights attorney and founder of the Racial Justice Network, called it "unacceptable" that the U.S. Marshals still do not require police body camera use. She called for the city to stop allowing its officers to participate in federal task forces that do not require body camera use, especially U.S. Marshals task forces.
"We don't believe the lies," she said. "We don't believe the false narratives of law enforcement. We don't believe the false narratives that were carried forward by our local media. And we're not going to be complicit in a cover-up of the murder of a father, a comedian, a hip-hop artist, a son, a brother and a friend."
Angela Rose Myers, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said police have a history of "covering up their crimes and using the BCA to do it."
"Just because a video didn’t go viral of Winston Smith’s murder, doesn’t mean his life didn’t matter," she added.
Meanwhile, Smith's family honored his memory at a Saturday funeral.
"He was truly a ray of sunshine — the kindest, sweetest, most joyful person," Tieshia Floyd, Smith's sister, said at the gathering, according to WCCO-TV.
His obituary on the funeral page said Smith loved to spend time with friends and family, including his two daughters and son.
"Winston was energetic, full of life, always a prankster and very funny," the obituary said. "He had a heart of gold, and would help anyone that was in need."
At a news conference earlier this month, Smith's loved ones remembered him as a loving father to his three children and a comedian who wrote comedy skits for social media. Floyd, pleaded for transparency and defended her brother's character and history.
"My brother was kind," she said. "No, he wasn't perfect. None of us are. He was trying to turn over a new leaf but they took that away from him."
"I love my brother, and I just don't want the world to judge him for what's being put out there," she added. "I will protect my brother's name until justice has been served."
Contributing: The Associated Press
Contact News Now Reporter Christine Fernando at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter at @christinetfern.