The mother of a man fatally shot by St. Paul police last month called Thursday for police reform and justice in her son's death.
Kim Handy Jones spoke at a news conference outside the St. Paul City Hall and Ramsey County courthouse building in memory of her son, Cordale Q. Handy. She filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday against the city, its police department and the three officers who were present when her son was killed on March 15 in the Dayton's Bluff neighborhood.
"My son Cordale was a gift from God," she said. "My child did not deserve to die in that execution-style manner."
Handy, 29, was killed about 2:20 a.m. near the intersection of Sinnen and E. 7th streets after police were called to a domestic dispute at a nearby apartment.
Handy Jones' lawsuit alleges that St. Paul police observe a code of silence and encourage "excessive and unreasonable" force, and that the officers who responded to the scene colluded after the fact.
"In order to cover up their misconduct, they falsely claimed that Cordale Handy placed them in imminent fear of bodily harm," the lawsuit said of the officers' actions.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is investigating the shooting and has said that Handy pointed a gun at the officers twice and ignored orders to drop the weapon. Officers Mikko Norman and Nathaniel Younce — both with two years on the force — fired and hit Handy, the BCA said.
Andrew Stroth, a civil rights attorney from Chicago representing Handy Jones, a resident of Lake County, Ill., said at Thursday's news conference that the police use of force was "unjustified" and illegal. The suit references statistics kept by the Star Tribune that show that between November 2000 and this year, 11 of 24 people killed by police in St. Paul were black.
"They talk about St. Paul as one of the most livable cities in America, yet, for young black males, it's a very dangerous place to be," Stroth said. "… Kim is pursuing justice and systemic reform. It's not just about a financial remedy or money for the family. No amount of money can bring back Kim's son."
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages in addition to new policies and practices to govern the hiring, training and supervision of St. Paul police.
The St. Paul Police Federation issued a statement Thursday critical of Stroth's "sweeping and inflammatory" comments.
"We will not discuss the incident involving Mr. Handy other than to say our officers acted within policy, procedure and statute," the statement read. "They were called to help in a very dangerous situation and bravely addressed it head-on."
'I come in peace'
Hours after her news conference, Handy Jones confronted Police Chief Todd Axtell at a community meeting on police brutality hosted by Black Lives Matter. About 100 people were there, including St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
"Chief, I'm not here to point blame at you," she said. "I come in peace. I want to live in peace. But where is the accountability for these policemen?
"Something needs to be done. I'm asking you. Just put yourself in my shoes for one minute. If it was your son, what would you do?"
"I'm incredibly, incredibly sorry for your loss," Axtell replied. "As a father, I can't imagine. I'm here to listen to you tonight."
Handy Jones' suit said that while blacks make up about 16 percent of the city's population, they make up about 45 percent of all people killed by St. Paul police between 2000 and 2017. The suit alleges that there is a pattern at the department and that "policies, practices and customs intentionally target African-American citizens."
"We want the mayor and the city and the Police Department to reform," Stroth said.
Ben Petok, a spokesman for Coleman, declined to address Stroth's call for reform but said that the mayor is looking forward to an April 20 community meeting about Handy's death hosted by black leadership organizations including the St. Paul branch of the NAACP.
The meeting is scheduled to take place from 6-8 p.m. at Progressive Baptist Church, 1505 Burns Av., in St. Paul. Axtell is also expected to attend.
An unrelated wrongful death suit was filed Thursday in federal court against the city of Roseville and three of its officers on behalf of the family of John O. Birkeland.
Birkeland, who was white, was bitten by a police K-9 and then fatally shot by two officers on Feb. 10, 2016.
Neighbors had called police to check on Birkeland because he was screaming and throwing things. At least one caller had informed dispatch that Birkeland could have a mental illness and had previously displayed similar behavior.
Police eventually broke into Birkeland's apartment after he refused to let them in. The K-9 found him hiding in a closet and bit his knee. Birkeland stabbed the dog with a knife and was fatally shot by officers Kyle Eckert and John Jorgensen. A grand jury cleared the officers in the shooting.
Staff writer Pat Pheifer contributed to this report.
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