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Family of teen shot by police not satisfied by grand jury decision
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Ella Davis Suggs, Courtney Williams' aunt, says the family believes the police conducted a thorough investigation. But she says there's more questions to be answered. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Late Friday a Hennepin County grand jury decided against charging an officer who shot and killed a teenager last October. But a group of community activists and members of the victim's family are skeptical. The police say Courtney Williams, 15, was holding a pellet gun when he was shot by officer Scott Mars. Family members say Williams didn't have the gun when he was shot. And they say there are other questions about the night of the shooting that don't make sense.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Minneapolis created the Police Community relations council to help smooth rocky times between the cops and citizens. It seemed to be having problems on Monday. Over the weekend the Council called a press conference to discuss the grand jury findings. But it started over two hours late as the members wrangled over what to say.

Eventually Police Chief William McManus and PCRC co-chair the Rev. Ian D. Bethel took their divergent views public.

"Having been intimately involved in this investigation from the very beginning, I believe officer Mars actions at the time of the shooting were justified," McManus said.

"The community side of the PCRC respectfully agreed to disagree with the conclusions of the grand jury," said Bethel.

When it doesn't come out the way they want it to, they don't believe in it.
- John Delmonico, the president of the police union

The police say on the night of October 24 witnesses called 911 to report a young African American, matching Williams' description, carrying a gun. The police also say when officers arrived on the scene, Williams and some other young men ran. When officer Scott Mars told Williams to drop the gun, they say the young man turned to face the officer. Mars shot Williams once in the shoulder and once in the forehead.

"There's still lots of questions about the three to five minutes that led up to the shooting and then just the chaos that insued afterwards; what really happened?" said Ella Davis Suggs, Williams' aunt. She says the family is still in shock over the shooting.

In fact Suggs says Williams' mother left town for a few days in order to get away from the proceedings surrounding her son's death. Suggs says the family believes the police conducted a thorough investigation. But she says there's more questions to be answered.

"The pieces that are still missing, like some of the questions, like the proximity of the shooting. Some of the forensic information. What transpired between the paramedics and the hospital? The triage that might have been done. Was Courtney alive at the scene or was he dead?" she said.

The family and members of the PCRC believe Williams didn't have the gun when he was shot. Police say they found several prints on the pellet gun. But only one print on the barrel was readable. They say it belonged to Williams.

Some PCRC members say another kid was holding the gun that night. Activist Zach Metoyer says he believes further investigation will show that to be true.

"We're going to be also looking into trying to get the other fingerprints off the weapon as well but there was a number of individuals who handled that BB gun on that evening over and above Courtney Williams," Metoyer said.

Like members of Williams' family, the PCRC members say they believe the police put together a sound investigation. But they say they are concerned about what happened before the grand jury. Some PCRC members say they want to know if the grand jury got all the necessary information. However the procedings are closed to the public and in this case can only be released to the family if they request the transcripts.

Hennepin County officials defended the grand jury process. They say 21 people testified in the Williams case including his mother.

"Certain community members, when the system benefits them, they believe in it. When it doesn't come out the way they want it to, they don't believe in it," according to Sgt. John Delmonico, the president of the police union.

"We've got to work with what we got. I think the grand jury system is a good system. It's 20-some independent people who have no ties to the community or the police. They're shown all the facts in the case," he said.

Ella Davis Suggs says the Williams family will file a motion to receive the transcripts of the grand jury procedings. She says she hopes they will find more answers to help them get through their grief.

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