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Howard Johnson shooting: St. Paul police release body camera footage of deadly encounter

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St. Paul Police release footage of Howard Johnson’s shooting death 02:54

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- St. Paul police have released the body camera and squad car footage showing Monday evening's fatal police shooting of Howard Johnson on the city's east side.

Johnson, 24, was shot by Sgt. Cody Blanshan around 6 p.m. in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood. Police said the incident stemmed from a call about a domestic assault and a man with a gun.

The excerpt of Blanshan's body camera video begins with him driving his squad car. When he sees Johnson, he says into the radio: "He's walking eastbound Hudson, got the gun in his right hand."

Blanshan then says, "He's pointing at a car, he's trying to carjack right now." Then the video shows the squad car ramming into something; police said he ran into Johnson.

Johnson is still standing near the squad car, and Blanshan is shown getting out of the car and firing his gun 10 times. The video ends with Johnson laying on the ground.

St. Paul Police also released video from a separate squad car down the street, which also shows the shooting. In that video, a shot is heard before the police car stops.

Then it's followed up by four still photographs, which show Johnson holding what police say is his gun. There is also a photo of what police say is a muzzle flash from Johnson's gun, Johnson appearing to point the gun, and then the gun laying on the ground next to him after he was shot.

Blanshan's body camera video is less than a minute long.

Raw video: SPPD releases bodycam footage of Howard Johnson shooting death 03:50

Johnson was taken to the hospital, where he died.

Axel Henry, St. Paul's new police chief, was not able to say much Thursday, besides saying the video speaks for itself. He also offered condolences to Johnson's family.

"Any loss of life is tragic, and our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Mr. Johnson. We recognize that words cannot alleviate their pain," Henry said.

The St. Paul Police Federation, which will a hold a press conference Friday to comment on the shooting, had stronger words Thursday. The union released a statement on Twitter, saying in part, "To knowingly take on a suspect like that with a gun at close range was not only justified…it was heroic and completely selfless."

Family members demanded the body camera footage be released as soon as possible, for the sake of transparency. But after they were shown the footage on Thursday afternoon, they said there were not satisfied, and want more video and information to come out.

"My son was my protector. He was loving, he was kind," his mother Monique Johnson said. He was the father of twin 4-year-olds.

Johnson's family said he'd been in trouble before; he had domestic violence convictions and an active warrant for his arrest connected to a domestic assault case. 

"My cousin was a real person regardless if he had a background, regardless if he had a warrant," said Juanita Lingwall.

Howard Johnson with his mother, Monique Monique Johnson

Blanshan, who has been in law enforcement for 10 years, is on standard administrative leave.

The BCA said their goal for any investigation is to take no longer than 60 days. When it's done, they'll pass off their report to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office which will then decide on the next course of action.


Police accountability expert examines body cam footage

Rachel Moran, associate professor at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, focuses on police accountability in her work. She estimates she has watched hundreds of hours of police body camera video in her career, most recently as she works with students on real criminal cases.

When she reviewed the body camera footage with WCCO, she said it's hard to tell Johnson is holding a gun as police describe in their account of what happened. She noted the video happens fast and it's not clear.

The excerpts shared by St. Paul Police include still frames of the video with descriptions preceding the images, highlighting what law enforcement said was the weapon. The first two images are still hard to decipher, she said, but believes it's easier to identify the object as a gun when it's on the ground in the third image.

"I'm not disputing that's what happened, but it takes a very slow review of the information to decide that's potentially what happened. And I don't think an outside viewer could've concluded that without having heard from police or other people about what they say happened," Moran said.

She said investigations take time and she can understand why law enforcement releases only segments of the footage - there could be dozens of hours from several officers.

Police accountability expert examines Howard Johnson body cam footage 02:02

Still, she acknowledged there can be community distrust in that process. She would like the department to release more video, which Police Chief Axel Henry during the Thursday news conference signaled could happen.

"We definitely need more," Moran said. "It would be really unfair to comment on what happened without a fuller picture of what happened."

But Joe Dutton, a retired Golden Valley police officer who has testified in cases on law enforcement use of force, said what he sees is clear.

"Somebody dies in any particular situation, it's tragic. It's tragic for the families and it's tragic for the police officers to be quite honest with you. But sometimes things have to be done. Police officers have to take actions on certain incidents and sometimes it can be deadly force," Dutton said. "I don't see how anyone could conclude other than the fact that this was a justifiable deadly force encounter."

Dutton said the alleged attempt at a carjacking, which Sgt. Cody Blanshan describes as witnessing in the footage, was a turning point that gave law enforcement no other options.

"The suspect escalated the incident. They now have to take action. There's no guarantee he wouldn't shoot the driver of that car he's trying to carjack," he said. "You show that video to anyone who was a police officer or still is a police officer and there'd be no doubt that those officers handled the situation properly."

Minnesota's use-of-force statute says that the use of deadly force "to protect the peace officer or another from death or great bodily harm" with criteria assessing the threat.

By Caroline Cummings

Howard Johnson's family: Police videos "do not tell the whole story"

Howard Johnson’s family trying to piece together last moment’s of his life 02:11

Howard Johnson's family is trying to piece together the last moments of his life, but they say they aren't satisfied.

WCCO-TV had a brief conversation with them after they viewed the video privately at the police station. They say what they saw does not tell the entire story of what happened. They said they expect more information and more video to be released to show exactly what happens moments before and after shots were fired.

"The only thing I want to say is that we're not satisfied with the video that we seen," said Monique Johnson, Howard Johnson's mother. "The videos we've seen do not tell the whole story."

"I don't think I can imagine that would be satisfying for anyone given this circumstance and we have to know that many of the questions that we all have aren't going to be answered today," said Mayor Melvin Carter. "They aren't going to be answered this week. They can only be answered by taking the time and the deliberate process the BCA is going through with us and on our behalf right now and I stand with them too in being very eager and looking forward to the answers that investigation yields for us."

Carter said the St. Paul Police Department released the video as quickly as it could. He was also quick to not that he and the police chief do not have access to what is going on with the investigation as the BCA has taken the lead on it.

Carter is asking for patience as the investigation continues, while the family says it will push for more information as to what happened to their loved one.

By Reg Chapman

Police union: Sgt. Blanshan was "heroic and completely selfless"

The St. Paul Police Federation released this statement late Thursday afternoon following the release of body and squad car camera footage showing the deadly encounter Monday night between 24-year-old Howard Johnson and St. Paul Police Sgt. Cody Blanshan:

No officer ever wants to find themselves in a position where they are forced to take another's life, however, sometimes it's simply unavoidable. To knowingly take on a suspect like that with a gun at close range was not only justified…it was heroic and completely selfless. 

Having just watched the video below, we are so thankful that none of our officers or innocent victims were killed thanks to the selfless response of Sgt. Blanshan. We are blessed to have cops like him who are willing to put their lives on the line to preserve others.

By WCCO Staff

St. Paul Police, Mayor Carter address body camera video


Roughly an hour after the body camera video depicting the police shooting of Howard Johnson was released, St. Paul Police Chief Axel Henry and Mayor Melvin Carter held a press conference to discuss the video.

"Any loss of life is tragic, and our thoughts go out to the family and friends of Howard Johnson," Henry said. 

Carter added that the "impacts of this trauma are felt far beyond the individuals involved," and acknowledged that the shooting and the video were "especially triggering in Minnesota."

They said they were not able to discuss any specifics of the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension's ongoing investigation. 

However Henry did say the squad car that Blanshan was driving did not have a dash camera on it, due to "limited resources." He added that police could eventually release the body camera footage from the supervisor, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the squad. 

By WCCO Staff
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