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What if there isn’t a video? For families of people killed by police, it’s ‘not a fair fight’

Amity Dimock
George Floyd happened. Community outcry. Boom, they go forward and start dealing with George Floyd. We just all hope for somebody to know our loved ones’ names, also.

Dimock said she was emotionally prepared when she learned there would be no criminal charges for the officers involved in her son’s death. She knew a civil lawsuit had little chance of success because of qualified immunity.

She expressed frustration that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman took immediate action in Floyd’s case but took almost a year to announce the officers involved in her son’s death would not be charged.

“George Floyd happened. Community outcry. Boom, they go forward and start dealing with George Floyd,” she said. “We just all hope for somebody to know our loved ones’ names, also.” 

Prosecutors may be hesitant to prosecute police, consciously or subconsciously, because they work closely with them, according to Kate Levine, a professor of law at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York who studies police prosecution.

“Prosecutors will do a lot of investigation and take a lot of care before they even decide to charge a police officer. It could take a year,” she said. “If you have a civilian, they’ll charge them as fast as they can, and they’ll figure it out later.”

Dimock joins Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence meetings via Zoom from her home in Baxter, where her son’s ashes sit on a table near the kitchen, surrounded by photos, trinkets and succulents he started growing before he died. His stepfather takes care of them now.

She’s comforted by connecting with others affected by police violence. “You just can’t quite understand the deep pain that we’ve experienced,” Dimock said.

he was parked outside his ex-girlfriend’s apartment and sending threatening text messages. 

Police claimed Golden drove at officers at high speed as they approached him. Investigators said his car hit an officer’s gun, and he fired two rounds, Minnesota Public Radio reported, citing documents released by the department. 

Golden’s family contended the officer slipped on ice and accidentally discharged his gun. 

Marcus Golden's family disputes the police account of his shooting.

Marcus Golden’s family disputes the police account of his shooting.
Monique Cullars-Doty

The other officer on scene said he thought the gunfire came from Golden’s car and fired shots at the driver’s window. After the SUV crashed, officers pulled Golden from the driver’s seat and handcuffed him. He had a gunshot wound to his head.

Officers estimated the entire incident lasted less than a minute. Police officers were the only witnesses. There was no surveillance, dashcam or bystander video, Minnesota Public Radio reported.

“It’s an uphill battle without a video,” Cullars-Doty said.

Many police departments prohibit officers from shooting at moving vehicles in certain situations. The New York City Police Department adopted a policy nearly 50 years ago prohibiting officers from doing so unless the person driving threatens deadly force, according to the Police Executive Research Forum. 

In May 2015, a Washington County grand jury concluded that the shooting of Golden was justified and declined to indict officers Jeremy Doverspike and Dan Peck.

Levine, the law professor, said grand juries often don’t indict police officers because cops are typically able to argue that the killing was justified.

If there is an indictment, police officers are afforded a presumption of credibility when they testify in court, Levine said. “Civilians are rarely believed if they are testifying opposite a police officer,” she said.

Cullars-Doty said police made it difficult to find out what happened. Four years after Golden’s death, she said, the department tried to put his vehicle up for auction and charge the family fees for storage at the impound lot.

“That’s evidence, you’re getting rid of evidence,” she said.

The family called a news conference. That’s when police told them the fees would be waived and the vehicle would not be sold. St. Paul police spokesman Steve Linders told the Pioneer Press police had tried to reach the family to determine how to proceed and the news conference “made it clear they want the vehicle back.”

The family sued the city of St. Paul and the officers involved this year, just before the statute of limitations was set to expire. They allege officers Doverspike and Peck used excessive force in violation of Golden’s constitutional rights.

Cullars-Doty, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter Minnesota, said she’s pushing forward with her lawsuit not for money but to “clear” Golden’s name and hold police accountable. 

“There has to be change,” she said.

What if there isn't a video? For families of people killed by police, it's 'not a fair fight'
Ashley Quinones, left, widow of Brian Quinones, who was killed by Edina and Richfield police in 2019, and Courteney Ross, the girlfriend of George Floyd, hold each other during an event to release balloons in honor of their deceased loved ones at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 6, 2020.
Ashley Quinones, left, widow of Brian Quinones, who was killed by Edina and Richfield police in 2019, and Courteney Ross, the girlfriend of George Floyd,…
Ashley Quinones, left, widow of Brian Quinones, who was killed by Edina and Richfield police in 2019, and Courteney Ross, the girlfriend of George Floyd, hold each other during an event to release balloons in honor of their deceased loved ones at Powderhorn Park in Minneapolis on Saturday, June 6, 2020.
Julio Cortez, AP

Like Floyd’s, Brian Quinones’ death was captured on video from beginning to end. Police squad car cameras and Facebook Live video documented his final moments  Sept. 7, 2019.

Police said Quinones, 30, violated “multiple traffic laws,” and an officer tried to stop his vehicle, “thinking that Quinones may be drunk.” After a chase, the officer stopped his squad car in front of Quinones’ vehicle and exited with his gun drawn, and “Quinones quickly came up behind him, aggressively pointing a knife in his direction,” according to the Hennepin County attorney. 

The officer told Quinones to drop the knife. The second officer to arrive at the scene used a Taser on Quinones. Quinones ran at the first officer who fired three shots, the county attorney’s office said. Three more officers had arrived and fired at Quinones.

He was shot seven times, according to an autopsy. He was not under drug or alcohol influence during the incident, it found. 

“We ended up homeless, carless and then I ended up jobless due to COVID and husband-less all in a matter of like three months,” said Quinones’ wife, Ashley, who was at the scene.

Brian Quinones was shot seven times in a confrontation with police. He was survived by his wife, Ashley, and their son.

Brian Quinones was shot seven times in a confrontation with police. He was survived by his wife, Ashley, and their son.
Ashley Quinones

Each year, about 100 knife-wielding people are killed by police, who can fire upon such suspects if they come within 21 feet, said Rajiv Sethi, professor of economics at Barnard College in New York and co-author of “Shadows of Doubt: Stereotypes, Crime, and the Pursuit of Justice.”

There’s “no scientific basis in that 21-foot rule, and officers tend not to be killed by a visible knife,” said Sethi, who is studying the use of deadly force by U.S. law enforcement. 

The five officers involved in Quinones’ death were not charged. 

Ashley Quinones questioned why Freeman was removed from Floyd’s case, yet the Hennepin County attorney continued to handle her husband’s case and others such as Kobe Dimock-Heisler’s.

Watching some of the Chauvin trial, she said, “really upset me because my husband wasn’t given the same opportunity.”

Ashley Quinones filed a wrongful death lawsuit seeking $50 million against the city and the officers involved last June.

Ashley Quinones
Not only do I not get criminal charges, no justice, but I also now have to fight tooth and nail (for information). This is not a fair fight.

The suit describes Brian Quinones as an aspiring musician, barber and proud father who moved to Minnesota from Puerto Rico more than 20 years ago. It contends Quinones wasn’t violating any traffic laws the night he was killed and officers conducted an “unlawful felony stop.”

Ashley Quinones has more information than many families: She was at the scene and has publicly available video and eyewitness evidence. Despite that, she said she is  missing “key details” about what happened to her husband.

“Not only do I not get criminal charges, no justice, but I also now have to fight tooth and nail” for information, she said. “This is not a fair fight.”

Quinones doesn’t have a high-powered attorney like Ben Crump, who  represents Floyd’s family. She turned to GoFundMe to fund her case.

She hopes to use her husband’s case as a blueprint to show others what to do in the aftermath of a police killing. More than that, she hopes to see changes made in police departments.

Quinones, who started her own organization called Justice Squad, called for “community accountability” and said organizers should do more to include families such as hers. 

“It’s important to center those people,” she said. “If you’re out here chanting and telling someone’s story, give them the benefit of telling the story themselves.”

Contributing: Eric Ferkenhoff and Marco della Cava, USA TODAY; The Associated Press

Follow N’dea Yancey-Bragg on Twitter: @NdeaYanceyBragg

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