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Sheriffs Of Ramsey, Hennepin Counties Pull Deputies From US Marshals Fugitive Task Force Until Body Cams Are Allowed

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The sheriffs of Minnesota's two largest counties say they are pulling their deputies from the U.S. Marshals Service's Fugitive Task Force until body cameras are allowed.

On Monday, the Ramsey County Sheriff's Office sent out a release announcing that the U.S. Marshals Service agreed to allow local law enforcement to wear body cameras while on the task force. An addendum to a 2014 agreement now requires any Ramsey County deputy who is on the task force to wear and use a body camera.

Later that day, however, Sheriff Bob Fletcher sent out a statement that the U.S. Marshals Service has been "misleading" in its comments in the media concerning body cameras.

"In Minnesota, the Marshals office has refused to allow us to wear body cameras since the advent of the technology and any new policy has not been implemented," Fletcher said.

Fletcher says he signed the addendum to allow the use of body cameras on the task force by Ramsey County deputies, but the U.S. Marshals Service did not make the policy change.

"Much to my surprise, I received a voicemail today from U.S. Marshal Mona Dohman, in which she explains, 'it could take a while for this to get approved… so, your deputies still won't be allowed to use their body cameras… until the onboarding process has gone on,'" Fletcher said.

As a result, Fletcher says he made the decision that Ramsey County sheriff's deputies will not participate in the task force until body cameras are "actually" authorized.

Late Tuesday, a spokesperson from the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office released this statement: "HCSO will no longer participate in the North Star Fugitive Task Force until local law enforcement deputies and officers are allowed to wear body-worn cameras."

The push for task force members to use body cameras comes after a federal investigation in Minneapolis resulted in a shooting death with no body camera footage. On June 3, task force members, in several vehicles, confronted Winston Smith at a parking ramp in Uptown. Officials said Smith wouldn't surrender and pulled out a gun, resulting in multiple task force members opening fire and killing Smith.

State investigators say evidence shows that Smith fired his gun from inside his car, and that the task force had a warrant for his arrest.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, which is leading the investigation in this case, says that a Hennepin County sheriff's deputy and a Ramsey County sheriff's deputy working on the task force shot Smith.

In its news release about the shooting, the BCA said there is no video from body cameras or squad car video because the U.S. Marshal Service "currently does not allow" the use of body cameras for officers serving on the task force -- also known as the North Star Fugitive Task Force.

But the U.S. Department of Justice changed that policy last fall and allows local law enforcement on federal task forces to "activate a body-worn camera while serving arrest warrants, or during other planned arrest operations, and during the execution of search warrants."

The U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Minnesota confirmed that as of February of this year, phased-in implementation began, including in Minnesota.

In response to that statement, Bruce Gordon, a spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Public Safety that oversees the BCA, said: "As to why that is or why the USMS has not 'phased in' the new policy for this task force, you will need to ask them and the U.S. Attorney. That is their decision."

He stood by the BCA's initial news release about the event, saying the information came from the U.S. Marshals Service.

Multiple nights of unrest followed the shooting of Smith, with his family calling for transparency and any footage available to be released. His friends and family say a warrant for his arrest should not have led to the end of his life.

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