Minneapolis has 100 National Guardsmen on standby as new gun evidence emerges in Winston Smith shooting

The Minnesota National Guard activated about 100 soldiers Wednesday to prepare for the possibility of civil unrest in Minneapolis as demonstrations continue over the deputy-involved fatal shooting of Winston Boogie Smith Jr. by a U.S. Marshals task force weeks ago – as well as the most recent death of a woman killed when a man rammed his SUV into a group of protesters blocking an intersection.

Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday afternoon that his office, at the request of Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, “gave the Minnesota National Guard a warning order to start preparing to assist local law enforcement should they need help,” the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported. The Minnesota National Guard has not been given any operational orders, “and as of this time their assistance has not been needed,” Fox 9 Minneapolis also reported.

MN National Guard tweeted Wednesday afternoon that approximately 100 soldiers from the 257th Military Police Company have been activated “at the request of the city of Minneapolis for potential support to civil unrest within the city.” A follow-up tweet added, “While the Soldiers are not currently in Minneapolis, they are standing by and prepared to respond if their presence is needed.”

If Guardsmen are brought into Minneapolis, Police Chief Medaria Arradondo requested that those soldiers be assigned to teams with law enforcement officers and concentrate on property protection details and static traffic posts, according to the city of Minneapolis.

In a letter addressed to the governor earlier Wednesday, Frey said city and state officers have maintained communication “about the ongoing peaceful protests and potential civil unrest around the recent officer-involved shooting of Winston Smith in Minneapolis.”

“It is my request that the state make Minnesota National Guard assets available to assist in ensuring calm and order throughout the city, without immediately being deployed,” the mayor wrote, according to a copy of the letter obtained by the Tribune. He added that “preparedness is essential.”

The city has asked for National Guard assistance at least five times since the death of George Floyd in May 2020, according to the Tribune.

The latest request comes as protesters and city officials compete for control of the intersection of Lake Street and Hennepin Avenue in Uptown. City crews have repeatedly cleared the area, and each time protesters have moved back in after police left. Organizers want the area to remain closed to traffic as has occurred at the site of Floyd’s death downtown by Cup Foods that has come to be known as George Floyd Square.

Late Sunday, a woman, identified by media outlets as 31-year-old Deona Marie Knajdek Erickson, was killed after a man rammed his SUV into a group of protesters and their vehicles parked to block off the nearby intersection of West Lake Street and Girard Avenue South.

The driver, 35-year-old Nicholas D. Kraus, was charged with second-degree unpremeditated murder by the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office on Wednesday. He had been in custody since early Monday and police said protesters initially pulled him out of his vehicle and beat him.

His motive remains unclear, though Minneapolis police said alcohol and drugs may have been contributing factors. A search warrant also said Kraus admitted to being the driver but gave illogical and irrelevant answers to other questions, including telling police his name was Jesus Christ and Tim Burton, that he had been a carpenter for 2,000 years, and that he wanted to get his children to the Super Bowl.

The document, obtained by KARE, said security camera footage showed no brake lights as Kraus approached the intersection. Kraus has five convictions for driving while impaired dating back to a 2007 incident, according to online court records. Court records also show his driver’s license was canceled in 2013 because he was found to be “inimical to public safety.”

Meanwhile, new documents filed in Hennepin County District Court earlier this week provide more details into the circumstances of the fatal shooting of 32-year-old Smith in the top level of a parking ramp in the Uptown area of Minneapolis on June 3. State investigators have said there is no body-camera, dash-camera or surveillance footage that captured the incident unfold.

Search warrant affidavits obtained by the Tribune said 14 cartridge casings from police firearms were found outside of the car and six cartridge casings from another gun were found inside the vehicle.

One document said a Smith and Wesson M&P 380 pistol was recovered from the driver’s side of the vehicle. Six casings matching the pistol were found inside the vehicle: Two from the driver’s seat, one from the floor, two from the center console and one from the front passenger area.

Those details contrast with what attorneys representing a woman who was inside the vehicle with Smith at the time of the shooting said. She claimed she never saw Smith with a gun and never saw a gun inside the vehicle at any time, the Tribune reported.

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The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) said a Hennepin County sheriff’s deputy and a Ramsey County sheriff’s deputy serving on the U.S. Marshals North Star Fugitive Task Force “discharged their weapons, striking the man.” The BCA also said “evidence at the scene indicates that the man fired his weapon from inside the vehicle” – though no details were provided about which party fired first.

Smith had a warrant for a felony firearms violation and was shot while the task force was attempting to bring him into custody. Smith’s criminal record included 20 convictions, mostly for minor traffic and parking violations, plus three marijuana charges and an aggravated robbery conviction in which his ex-girlfriend’s face was beaten to a pulp, according to court documents.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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