Attorneys for woman in Winston Smith's car: She didn’t see a gun

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The woman who was in Winston Smith's vehicle when a federal task force shot and killed him last week never saw Smith with a weapon, her attorneys said Thursday — disputing authorities' claim that he shot first.

"She never saw a gun on Winston Smith, and she never saw a gun inside the vehicle at any time," said lawyer Racey Rodne.

He made a brief statement on the unnamed passenger's behalf Thursday at a news conference at Girard Avenue and W. Lake Street, addressing reporters outside the parking garage where Smith, 32, was killed June 3.

Several activists and lawyers spoke at the emotional news conference to continue raising questions about the lack of transparency in the case, a week after officials said Smith fired from his car as a task force led by the U.S. Marshals Service tried to arrest him on a warrant from Ramsey County on suspicion of being a felon in possession of a gun.

On Thursday evening, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spokesman Bruce Gordon said the investigating agency stands by its earlier statement that evidence from the scene "indicates that [Smith] fired his weapon from inside the vehicle." BCA investigators recovered a handgun and spent cartridges from "inside the driver's compartment," the BCA's statement continued.

Deputy Chief Michelle Coghill of the U.S. Marshals Service said the agency could not comment because the investigation is ongoing.

Since asserting early on that no body or dash camera or surveillance footage is available in the case, authorities have held no public briefings or news conferences on Smith's shooting.

Smith and his female passenger had just left Stella's Fish Cafe when authorities pursued and shot him on the fifth floor of the parking garage across the street. Several people close to Smith, including his brother Kidale Smith, have said in recent days that the woman told them he had been reaching for his phone so he could livestream the interaction.

The woman in the car was injured by shattered glass in the shooting.

"She is extremely traumatized as a result of what happened to her. ... That woman could have been killed," activist Nekima Levy Armstrong said at the news conference.

Smith's family has retained several attorneys, including Ben Crump and Jeff Storms, who represented George Floyd's family in securing a $27 million civil settlement from the city of Minneapolis after Floyd was killed by a police officer last year. Smith had posted on Instagram a photo of himself posing with Crump around the anniversary of Floyd's death.

"The government has now just heard the people's evidence," Storms said, standing next to Kidale Smith. "The people now deserve to hear the government's evidence. There is 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."

In the aftermath of Smith's shooting, sheriff's offices in Hennepin, Ramsey and Anoka counties announced that they were suspending their participation in the federal task force because it prohibited body cameras from being used by deputies.

Levy Armstrong said the Racial Justice Network, a grassroots organization she leads, sent a letter to Gov. Tim Walz earlier in the day asking him to remove all Minnesota law enforcement agents from participation in any U.S. Marshals Service task force.

The group also wants him to contact the White House to request an investigation of Smith's death, given that BCA Superintendent Drew Evans was appointed in 2015 by Minnesota's U.S. Marshal, Ramona Dohman, when she was commissioner of the Department of Public Safety.

Levy Armstrong said what happened to Smith was "completely unacceptable" in the wake of the recommendation by President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing after a 2014 police shooting in Ferguson, Mo., that all law enforcement officers wear body cameras.

Levy Armstrong, who on Tuesday led a protest outside Dohman's home, vowed that protesters will keep picketing there until the Trump appointee, resigns or is fired by President Joe Biden.

Activists also called on the news media to demand more transparency from law enforcement, citing an initial Star Tribune digital report shortly after the shooting that cited a police scanner report that the man shot may have been a murder suspect. Editors later removed that from the digital story. The paper has apologized for publishing that misinformation and is re-examining its practices and policies.

Activist Mel Reeves said the Star Tribune "made a grave error" in initially reporting unfounded police assertions.

"The … family was already suffering," he said, "and to see that their relative, their brother, was accused of being a murder suspect just added to the pain."

Reeves and other advocates against police brutality said the media must be skeptical of law enforcement accounts, given numerous cases where police statements have proved to be contrary to the evidence.

"Do not be a mouthpiece for these deputized cowboys … do your job," community organizer Toussaint Morrison told reporters.

Smith's funeral will be held Saturday at Shiloh Temple in Minneapolis.

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