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No charges against officers in Winston Smith shooting death

Members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force fatally shot Smith in an Uptown parking lot June 3.

MINNEAPOLIS — The Crow Wing County Attorney's Office announced Monday it will not recommend charges be brought against the U.S. Marshals Task Force officers involved in the shooting death of Winston Smith.

According to a letter sent to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan found the task force was "properly exercising its lawful authority."

Ryan was brought in to review the case due to conflicts of interest for counties closer to the Twin Cities.

Members of a U.S. Marshals Service task force fatally shot Smith in an Uptown Minneapolis parking ramp on June 3, saying Smith fired a gun as they attempted to take him into custody. The 32-year-old was being sought on a warrant for a felony firearms violation.  

A woman in the car with Smith at the time of the fatal shooting, 27-year-old Norhan Askar, disputes that assertion. Askar has filed a lawsuit saying task force members emotionally traumatized her and violated her civil rights. She says she is seeking $15 million and will file a federal claim if the issue isn't resolved in six months.

In an extended investigation report explaining his decision, Ryan pointed to officer body camera footage taken immediately after the shooting, in which Askar explained she and Smith were eating lunch at Stella's Fish Cafe that afternoon. When they had reached Smith's vehicle after the outing, officers approached. They told Smith he was under arrest, and instructed both Smith and Askar to put up their hands. Authorities said Askar immediately complied with officers, while she pleaded with Smith to do the same and to "give himself up."

According to the investigation report cited in Ryan's letter, Smith allegedly told Askar he didn't want to go back to jail and that he "was going to die." Askar said Smith attempted to go live on Facebook, and continued to ignore officers' commands to put his hands up and exit the vehicle.

In the report, it states Task Force officers warned Smith they would break the vehicle's window if he did not comply. According to the report, Smith continued to ignore officers, prompting them to strike the front driver's side window several times in an attempt to break it.

The report states that while officers attempted to break into the vehicle, they observed Smith reaching into his back seat. Officers said they believed Smith had retrieved a gun, so they began firing into the vehicle. The report states the Task Force was then ordered to "fall back" after seeing Smith slump in his vehicle.

The report says it was at this time that Askar exited the vehicle and was detained and escorted away. 

Officers then went to the passenger side door to assist Smith out of the vehicle. They attempted life-saving measures, but he was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene.

According to a statement Askar gave to the Minnesota Bureau of Apprehension shortly after the incident, she said she did not remember seeing a gun inside the vehicle. However, the report states that officers recovered a semi-automatic .38 caliber handgun from the driver's side floor. DNA testing confirmed the six spent cartridges found inside Smith's vehicle were fired from that handgun.

In his investigation report, Ryan concludes that Smith "initiated a deadly force confrontation with the TF (Task Force) by drawing his handgun." Ryan said he isn't able to determine who fired first, but says that's irrelevant in this case. He said the officers' actions were "reasonable and justified" in "response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm."

Several community groups have repeatedly called for greater transparency in the investigation. There was no body-worn camera footage of the interaction between Smith and officers, nor any footage of the shooting, because the U.S. Marshal Service didn't allow task force members to use their body cameras. A law enforcement source tells KARE 11 that the body camera footage mentioned in the Crow Wing County Attorney's report came from Minneapolis Police Officers who responded to the shots fired call, and not from Task Force members involved in the shooting.