MINNEAPOLIS — In the three years since Raven Gant was murdered, her mother Lakecia Gant has had questions about whether Minneapolis Police could have saved her daughter’s life.
“I told my husband, I said, 'Something isn’t right,'” she told KARE 11 Investigates. “We just kept asking for the bodycam footage.”
In February, after a lengthy legal battle that cost a grieving mother thousands of dollars, a Hennepin County judge finally ordered the city to give the video to Lakecia. She shared it with KARE 11.
Now, those newly released videos raise questions about how police responded to 911 calls for help on Thanksgiving night 2019 – the night Raven was shot to death by her ex-boyfriend Randall Watkins in front of their 2-year-old daughter.
They show MPD officers knocked on the door, never announced themselves as police, and left after just two minutes without ever talking to Raven.
By the time other officers returned a half hour later, Raven had been shot.
After a tumultuous relationship that included allegations of abuse, Raven had decided to break up with her boyfriend.
On Thanksgiving Day 2019, Raven went to the house where Randall Watkins lived in North Minneapolis to retrieve her daughter, R’Jayah, and her belongings. The two argued and Watkins called 911.
“My daughter’s mom, she’s doing some crazy stuff,” Watkins said to the 911 dispatcher in a recording obtained by KARE 11.
When an MPD officer arrived, he found Raven in her car. Body camera footage of the incident shows her calmly explaining that she just wants their things.
“All of her clothes are in there. All of her diapers,” Raven said.
The video shows Watkins refusing to allow her inside to get them. Even when the officer volunteers assist her in retrieving the clothing, Watkins says no.
The officer tells Raven it’s a “civil matter” and the two will have to find another time. “Unfortunately, I can’t force him to open the door – that’s where my hands are tied,” the officer says.
Five 911 calls
Later that night, Raven would return. Her mother Lakecia says Watkins told her if she brought R’Jayah to see him, they could get the clothes.
She remembers being nervous that night, but Raven told her she’d come right home.
However, when Raven arrived at Watkins' home and went inside, things went south.
The two made simultaneous calls to 911 at 9:37 p.m. – the second and third of five total calls made that day and night. Raven told the dispatcher she wanted her things, but Watkins wouldn’t give them to her. What’s more, she said he wouldn’t let her leave.
The dispatcher asked: “Does he have any weapons at all?”
Raven: “Yeah, I’m sure he has weapons.”
Dispatch: “Does he have any weapons on him?
Raven: “I’m nervous and I just want to leave here.”
She would clarify that she believed Watkins had a gun in the house. She added that he typically carries a pocketknife, though she hadn’t seen it that day.
Meanwhile, Watkins was telling 911 a different story. He said Raven was refusing to leave and had assaulted him. “She just kicked me in my face. She just kicked me in my face,” he yelled into the phone.
Later, court records from his murder trial would show there was no indication that Raven ever assaulted Watkins.
The Body Camera video
Records show that officers responded to the house about five minutes after Raven and Watkins called 911. They were responding to a call coded “Domestic Abuse In Progress.”
The body camera video Lakecia fought to see shows them pulling up to the house and walking to the front door.
One officer taps on the screen door while the other stands nearby looking at the house. They don’t announce their presence, look in the windows, try a back door, or even knock again.
Instead, one of the officers radios the dispatcher.
“The house is all dark and nobody’s answering the door. Can you try to call back please?” says the officer. Seconds later, the dispatcher replies, “I got voicemail on callback.”
After just two minutes at the house – without any additional effort to make contact – the two officers leave.
A dispatcher would later reveal on another 911 call that they had called Randall Watkins back. It doesn’t appear anyone called Raven.
Minutes later, Watkins calls again – still inside the house police just left.
“I just called 911 and I was trying to see how long it takes officers to come get my daughter’s mom out of my house. She assaulted me,” he says, again claiming he’s the victim.
“We’re going to get them back out there,” the dispatcher tells him.
A police report written by the officers reveals they were then “re-dispatched” to Watkins’ home. But that same report indicates they first drove several blocks away to use the bathroom and then began investigating a stolen car.
At 10:08 p.m., the fifth and final 911 call is made from the home. In a recording, Watkins can be heard growing more volatile.
“Officers still not here,” he says.
He begins screaming, yelling, “You don’t put your hands on me!!!”
Meanwhile, the 911 dispatcher pleads with Watkins to calm down. “You need to get out of her face. Go to another room,” she tells him.
Little R’jayah can be heard crying in the background as Watkins gets angrier.
Finally, six minutes into that call – a half hour after officers knocked and left – a gunshot can be heard followed by screaming.
Watkins says, “We need an ambulance. We need an ambulance.”
When police finally returned to the house, it was too late. Body camera video shows Watkins exiting the home with his hands up.
Officers entering the house find R’Jayah and then see Raven lying motionless on the floor. They attempt lifesaving measures, but she would later be pronounced dead at the hospital.
“They could have saved her life”
As Lakecia watched the police video she fought so hard to obtain, she shook her head.
“They could have saved her life,” she said.
She and her attorney Oliver Nelson are now suing Minneapolis Police for wrongful death. They argue because of the 911 calls for help and the indication of physical violence or a weapon present, the officers were duty-bound to try harder to make contact with Raven.
“I don’t think any reasonable person, much less reasonable police officer, could look at the body cam footage and conclude that that was a thorough investigation into Miss Gant’s domestic abuse allegations,” Nelson said.
“No margin for error”
KARE 11 Investigates asked law enforcement experts to review the 911 calls and body camera footage. Each said domestic violence calls – especially in the middle of break-ups – are among the most dangerous both for a victim and for the officers.
“There’s no margin of error for a police response when it comes to these kind of calls,” said Mark Wynn, a former Nashville Police detective who helped create that department’s domestic violence protocols and who now trains police around the country on domestic violence response.
Of the Gant case, he said a few key factors made it a high priority. First, she was trying to retrieve her things. A point of separation is when the threat of violence is the highest.
Next, there were reports that a weapon was likely in the home.
And finally, there was a child there.
Watching the police response, he saw several areas where officers could – and should – have done more.
“This is a critical moment, and it could be that because they’re not answering – something is going on in that house,” he explained.
Wynn says he would require officers to:
- announce themselves;
- check the back door;
- look in the windows;
- listen for noises and try to talk to neighbors;
- and certainly, knock again. Forcefully.
“You don’t just drive away after two minutes and tapping once on the door. That’s not proper response to a domestic violence call,” Wynn said.
He believes Minneapolis Police should review the handling of the case to see if there are gaps in their policies or training.
“A call like this – considering there’s been a death – should be reviewed from top to bottom,” Wynn said.
KARE 11 reached out to Minneapolis Police to discuss their handling of the case. A spokesperson declined – citing the pending lawsuit. MPD did not reply to an email asking to discuss any changes made to domestic violence policies since the 2019 call. Publicly available records show the officers involved were not disciplined.
Randall Watkins was tried and convicted of second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Lakecia Gant is raising R’Jayah, now a kindergartener, who she calls Raven’s “mini-me.”
She says she’ll keep fighting to unravel what happened that night – when her daughter and the man who killed her called for help that never really arrived.
“I’m fighting for my daughter. And that’s not going to stop,” she said.
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