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Protesters rally for man shot by police in Austin

Family says the African immigrant was a peaceful, religious man in the midst of a mental health crisis when killed by local police.

AUSTIN, Minn — The family of a man killed by police in this southern Minnesota city joined demonstrators outside the Mower County Law Enforcement Center Thursday, demanding answers and videotape.

Kokou Christopher Fiafonou, an immigrant from the west African nation of Togo, and a father of three teenagers, was shot to death in a Kwik Trip parking lot on Dec. 23.  According to Austin Police Chief David McKichan, an officer shot Fiafonou after he confronted police with a machete.

"He was a peaceful man. He was a godly man. They took an innocent man’s life. We don’t get justice. We will never have peace!" Antoinette Smith, the wife of Fiafonou's cousin Kasi Adayi, told reporters.

The events that led to Fiafonou's death began a day earlier, when citizens reported seeing him walk through traffic with a machete in his hand. Chief McKichan said tasers failed to stop the 38-year-old man, who then escaped into his home.

For the next 24 hours they attempted to force him from the home using pepper spray and foam bullets fired through windows. Officers were then ordered to fall back, which was when they saw Fiafonou walking to the convenience store.

"The windows are busted out. There’s no electricity. There’s no heat. There’s no gas. There’s no water. Nothing! The house in uninhabitable!" Michelle Gross of the Minneapolis-based Citizens United Against Police Brutality, told reporters.

Austin Police officers don't use body worn cameras but Gross and Fiafonou's family members are demanding release of dashcam footage and any surveillance footage collected by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the investigation.

"Austin Police Department, release the video right now! If you’ve got nothing to hide, release everything you've got!"

At times during the protest raw motion was on display.

Fiafonou's fiancé Dorothy Gales cried out, "He did not deserve it! He did not deserve it! He was a father and a friend, a lover, a neighbor! He didn't bother anybody!"

At one point demonstrators spilled into a downtown intersection, where they briefly blocked cars on Main Street, forcing them to turn. But there were other moments that seemed more like a church service.

Fiafonou's brother David Kodzode and his cousins who also came here from Togo sang several songs in their native tongue. 

"I don't know what happened to my brother," Kodzode, who traveled to Austin from Iowa, told reporters.  "The last time we were together Kokou Christopher would begin each day with prayers. I think they just killed an innocent man."

Demonstrators made their way to the doors of the law enforcement center, calling for justice. At that point a local resident urged everyone to form a huge prayer circle. Dozens of people joined hands and formed a circle to pray for the family.

"Officers attempted to negotiate with the individual to come to a peaceful resolution. Several times during this incident, officers used pepper gas and less lethal foam impact munitions, which were also not effective," Chief McKichan wrote in a press release.

"In the parking lot of the gas station, the male armed with a knife, confronted those officers. At one point, one officer discharged their firearm, striking the male. Officers on scene rendered medical aid to the male and called for an ambulance. The male later died on scene."

Earlier this week, Minnesota Department of Public Safety announced that Fiafonou died of multiple gunshot wounds, and that a knife was recovered near his body in the Kwik Trip parking lot.

According to the DPS, squad car dash cameras captured part of the fatal encounter. The officer who fired the fatal shot has been with the Austin Police for two years, and was placed on paid administrative leave.

The BCA's investigation is still in progress, and findings will eventually be shared with the Mower County Attorney's Office.