St. Paul, MN – On August 17, 2018, St. Paul Police released body camera footage of officers fatally shooting Billy Hughes on August 5. The footage was released 12 days after the lethal shooting, and is the fastest release of police bodycam footage in Twin Cities history. The unprecedented speed of the footage’s release comes after quick rallies and marches organized by the Twin Cities indigenous community in support of Billy Hughes, a member of the White Earth nation.
Police body camera footage of the shooting:
Police released the footage at a press conference overseen by St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. Chief Axtell began by expressing sympathy for the family, along with police officers and the wider community, saying that he felt that the Hughes family had displayed grace in the face of such a terrible tragedy.
Other members of the family called into question Chief Axtell’s description of Billy Hughes’ encounter with police. His sister, Melissa Waukazo, said, “the Chief must never have swept a day in his life. Sweeping it side to side, and Billy was raising his hand up over his head like the officers had told him,” referring to Chief Axtell’s description of the video in which he said Billy Hughes “raises the gun in a sweeping fashion” over the two officers before police fired.
We were also able to talk to Billy Hughes’ cousin, Deana Waukaz, who said, “Why did they not announce themselves as police officers? Isn’t that a protocol?”
She also felt that the officers “gassed each other up,” referring to how officers yelling at Billy Hughes grew louder as Billy walked out onto the porch.
In the body camera video, officers Vince Adams and Matt Jones were recorded yelling “Put your hands up” as the door opens onto the unlit porch. Billy walks out as the police continue to yell at him, and he turns to face the police officers. In his right hand he holds the pistol. Both officers continue to yell for him to put his hands up. One officers changes his words to “put it down.”
Billy raises his right hand as the pistol travels up, barrel towards a police officer, before Hughes’ hand comes to rest up near his head, the barrel pointed away, with Billy showing the pistol’s profile to the police. Police then fire, killing Billy Hughes.
As Deana Waukaz stated, nowhere in the video do officers announce themselves, and since both officers had their flashlights aimed at Billy when he moved out onto the unlit porch where officers waited after they knocked on a door, it’s unclear if Billy Hughes can see the police uniforms.
Billy Hughes’ family told us that the reason the police released the footage so quickly was because they were in the street the next day for a vigil in front of the American Indian Center to let the city know that a life was taken.
Two days after the shooting, the Hughes family had protested in front of the police department, demanding the footage be released. They also marched through various national ‘night out’ events as they made their demands heard.
Billy Hughes’ family still feels there are questions left to be answered, and plan to move forward with a civil suit. They say they knew Billy, and if things were handled differently he would still be alive today.
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter has called the shooting a tragedy for everyone involved, and has commended police Chief Axtell for the quick release of the footage.
St. Paul Police Chief Axtell finished the press conference, where the footage was released to the public, with a statement that the final decision on if the police use of force will be considered justified can only be made by Ramsey County Attorney John Choi (who had previously charged police officer Jeronimo Yanez for killing Philando Castile) after the Bureau of Criminal Investigation presents their findings to him for evaluation.
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