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US Marshals were justified in the fatal shooting of Winston Smith Jr., prosecutor says

By Amir Vera and Raja Razek, CNN

US Marshal task force members were justified in the fatal shooting of Winston Smith in June, Donald F. Ryan, Crow Wing County attorney and chief prosecutor, wrote in a letter to Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman.

Members of the North Star Fugitive Task Force tried to arrest Smith, who was wanted on a felony warrant, on June 3 in Minneapolis. Ryan’s letter, released Wednesday, states while task force members were trying to arrest Smith he “initiated a deadly force confrontation” by drawing his handgun and firing at authorities.

“This resulted in the (task force) using deadly force in response,” Ryan wrote in the letter. “Though I am unable to determine who fired first, it is irrelevant in this case. Once an individual initiates a deadly force confrontation, a law enforcement officer does not have to wait to be shot/shot at before reacting.”

The reaction of the two Task Force Members in the case was “reasonable and justified,” according to Ryan.

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

Smith’s death ignited protests in Minneapolis, a year following the murder of George Floyd and two months after former officer Derek Chauvin was convicted in that case.

Friends and family members of Smith demanded body camera footage of the shooting.

“The US Marshal Service currently does not allow the use of body cameras for officers serving on its North Star Fugitive Task Force. There is no squad camera footage of the incident,” the Minnesota Department of Public Safety Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said in June.

On June 7, a memo issued by Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco said the Justice Department will require federal agents to wear and activate cameras whenever encountering the public “during pre-planned law enforcement operations.”

The shooting stemmed from a warrant that was issued for Smith in late May. He had failed to appear at a hearing after pleading guilty to a possession of a firearm charge in Ramsey County. Smith first appeared in court on the charge in December 2019, a court docket shows.

In November 2020, on the eve of trial, he pleaded guilty to a single charge of possession of a firearm in a plea agreement, according to the docket. On May 19, 2021, a warrant was issued for failure to appear at a hearing in the case, and he was ordered held without bond or bail, the docket shows.

™ & © 2021 Cable News Network, Inc., a WarnerMedia Company. All rights reserved.

CNN’s Kara Devlin, Carma Hassan, Hollie Silverman and Amanda Watts contributed to this report.

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