No charges for officers who shot Winston Smith

"Their conduct was clearly in response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm."

Winston Smith (Crime Watch Minneapolis/Twitter)

Crow Wing County Attorney Donald Ryan has concluded that members of a U.S. Marshals task force justifiably shot Winston Smith in June and did not recommend any criminal charges.

Although the shooting took place in the city of Minneapolis, Crow Wing County was asked to review the case to avoid any appearance of a conflict of interest for Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

In a letter to Freeman dated Oct. 6, Ryan said he found that the U.S. Marshals task force was “properly exercising its lawful authority to apprehend Winston Smith” on a felony warrant.

“The TF was readily identifiable when informing Smith he was under arrest and ordering him to exit his vehicle (as well as other commands). Smith failed to comply with the lawful orders,” Ryan wrote. “As the TF was attempting to gain entrance into his vehicle, Smith initiated a deadly force confrontation with the TF by drawing his handgun and firing at the TF. This resulted in the TF using deadly force in response.”

The Crow Wing County attorney added that the two task-force members involved in the deadly shooting did not have to wait to be shot or shot at before discharging their own weapons. Smith’s drawn gun, which he fired, was sufficient under Minnesota state law to allow a “reasonable and justified” use of deadly force.

In addition to his one-page letter, Ryan sent Freeman a five-page letter fleshing out the circumstances surrounding the shooting and the task-force members’ statements justifying deadly force against Smith.

“Their conduct was clearly in response to an apparent threat of death or great bodily harm,” said Ryan. “As a result, the use of deadly force was authorized under Minnesota law in this case and no criminal prosecution is warranted.”

In May, Smith failed to appear in court for sentencing after a November 2019 arrest for violating probation terms, according to Ryan’s letter. The arresting officers had found a loaded 9mm handgun under the driver’s seat of his car, which was bearing Missouri tags.

That probationary period stemmed from a first-degree aggravated robbery conviction. Smith had robbed and attacked an ex-girlfriend in November 2017, leaving her face “swollen and bloody,” and was found guilty in 2018.

Smith’s death set off another wave of rioting and looting in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis where he was killed. Fires were lit and some stores were looted, though the level of criminality and destruction scarcely approached that of the previous summer following the death of George Floyd.

Smith’s brother Kidale attempted to address a crowd of protesters, insisting that his brother would not have wanted a violent reaction, but he was heckled for criticizing the tactics of Black Lives Matter and saying that not all police officers are bad people.


Evan Stambaugh

Evan Stambaugh is a freelance writer who had previously been a sports blogger. He has a BA in theology and an MA in philosophy.