Robbinsdale police release footage of Khalil Azad traffic stop

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Days after protests and demands for transparency in the death of a Minnesota man who authorities say drowned following a police pursuit in Robbinsdale last summer, police have released the body-worn camera footage from three officers who responded.

Police suspected Khalil Ahmad Azad, 24, of Buffalo, was intoxicated while driving early July 3 and attempted to pull him over. He drove the SUV until he crashed near Crystal Lake. He ran from the car, and officers searched for him for more than an hour, which is included in the footage.

Azad’s body was found two days later in the lake.

Protesters have doubted that Azad accidentally drowned, as the Hennepin County Medical Examiner concluded.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced Tuesday it will conduct an independent investigation into the incident.

A statement Tuesday from Azad’s family and several social justice organizations listed a variety of concerns including alleged inconsistencies with the footage. They also plan to conduct an independent autopsy, after activists raised allegations that police beat him to death.

Family and the groups have been circulating what are described as autopsy photos that show Azad’s face swollen from what they allege was a beating by police officers. The autopsy reported that parts of his body were bloated.

“We want to know what exactly happened to Kahlil Ahmad Azad on the night of July 3rd, 2022,” the statement says.

According to Police Chief Patrick Foley, officers attempted to stop a suspected drunken driver in the 4200 block of County Road 81. The body and squad camera footage does not show what spurred the chase. Officer Tony Heifort is heard after the crash saying the vehicle was moving erratically.

“He flipped a [U-turn] and was just driving all over the road,” he said in the recording.

The footage shows the SUV crashed into a tree and officers arriving after Azad had run from the vehicle. Officers direct the two passengers, one of them Azad’s brother, to their squads and put them in handcuffs. The footage shows their interviews with police and their release.

Officer Joshua Heasley asks the brother about the driver who fled the scene; he replies that he didn’t know him. The brother discloses he has a gun on him and that he has a permit, which Heasley removes, before later handing it back after interviews conclude for him and the other passenger. He then takes off the brother’s handcuffs.

“I appreciate you being cooperative. I’m not sure what the hell that guy was doing. He’s lucky he didn’t kill somebody,” Heasley said, followed by agreement from Azad’s brother.

The brother hung up when reached Tuesday by a Star Tribune reporter.

Heifort detains the other passenger, a woman who owned the car, and explains to her that the car was totaled after crashing into a tree and breaking the axel. She says she’d just met Azad that night, and said she thought Azad and his brother had not known each other for a long time. The woman could not be reached for comment.

Officer Joshua Heasley is seen with other officers walking into the woods and backyards of homes along the lake, accompanied by at least one officer with a police dog. They also wade through the water and check docks.

“Police canine, show me your hands. You’re under arrest!” an officer says. “Give up now or I’ll send in the dog.”

Among the list of concerns, Azad’s family and the organizations wrote that there was no reason for police to chase Azad.

“Khalil Ahmad Azad was in fact suffering from driving while black,” the statement said. “We believe there was no probable cause for Robbinsdale police to initially pursue Khalil, he had not broken any laws while driving.”

The groups are frustrated that, after requesting the footage in September, they were unable to view the footage at City Hall until Monday, the statement said.

The groups allege police tampered with the footage beyond standard privacy blurring, saying they noticed “skips, pauses and freezes of the body camera footage, with multiple moments of blurriness.”

“Which leads us to believe that the original footage was tampered,” the statement reads. “We are concerned because there were absolutely no time stamps on the footage we watched.”

The statement says the family and supporting groups will demand footage from other agencies involved in the response, including New Hope, Crystal and Plymouth police, the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and a State Patrol helicopter, along with dispatch audio from all agencies involved.

Staff writer Paul Walsh contributed to this report.

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