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Minnesota: Chased by police, body of Khalil Azad found severely bruised in suburban lake

By Danielle Korby

Family wants answers

Minneapolis, MN – The family of Khalil Ahmad Azad, a 24-year-old Black man who was found dead in Crystal Lake in Robbinsdale, Minnesota on July 5, 2022, still had many unanswered questions on March 10, after Robbinsdale police released some body camera footage. The footage was released months after Khalil’s family said they requested it in September of last year. Azad was chased on foot by police in July after he was pulled over, and his body was discovered in Crystal Lake two days later.

Azad’s case gained attention after his family shared autopsy photos of his body online, showing severe bruising on his face, damage to his nose, and large scrapes on his body. The autopsy, performed by the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office, concluded that Azad died from “freshwater drowning,” but his family says that doesn’t make sense.

Azad’s sister, Ayisha Johnson, spoke at a rally on Friday, March 10, about the suspicious nature of the case. “Looking at those photos, you know something was wrong. There’s no drowning, he knows how to swim, he was like 6’ 4”, come on now,” Johnson said. “Every video I watch and every article, I add it up in my head. I know they [the police] are lying. Everyone can see that they’re lying.”

A statement released by Azad’s family last week says they believe the body camera footage from Robbinsdale Police was edited because the video skips, pauses, is blurry at times, and does not have time stamps listed. The family says that dogs can be heard barking in the background of the video, and an officer can be heard yelling to comply or they’ll release the dog.

Black Lives Matter Minnesota held several rallies last week demanding justice for Azad, which were endorsed by Twin Cities Justice for Jamar (TCC4J) and various other groups. Another rally is planned for this Wednesday at the Hennepin County Government Center. Azad’s family is demanding the release of all unedited body camera footage from all law enforcement agencies that were involved in Khalil’s case, and answers to all their questions.

Azad’s family said in their statement that they want to know why police stopped searching for Khalil so quickly. Police reported that they searched for Khalil for just 30 minutes. The family says they believe Azad ran from police for fear of his life, due to previous encounters with Robbinsdale police in which they threatened him.

“It’s the art of the cover-up, this is what police do,” said Monique Cullars-Doty during Friday’s rally. Cullars-Doty is a Black Lives Matter Minnesota and TCC4J member and the aunt of Marcus Golden, who was killed by Saint Paul police in 2015. “We can come out and stand up regardless of what the police say, regardless of what the media says, because we continue to see situations where white men survive and Black men do not.” Cullars-Doty also commended Khalil’s family for making the sacrifice to share the graphic autopsy photos and expose Khalil in that way.

During a rally in front of the Robbinsdale police station March 8, Toshira Garraway, founder of Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, said she believes that what Robbinsdale police did to Azad is similar to what Saint Paul police did to her fiancé, Justin Teigen, when they beat him and threw him in a trash dumpster in 2011. Garraway said the way that the body cam footage in Azad’s case goes blank after an officer says that the cameras are rolling, is similar to how the footage in her fiancé’s case went blank, leading her to believe they were both edited.

“He looks like Emmett Till,” Garraway said of Azad’s autopsy photos. “We’re not stupid. We know what our eyes show us. We see a man brutally beaten. These are modern day lynchings happening at the hands of law enforcement here in the state of Minnesota.”

Azad’s brother, Jamal Johnson, said at Friday’s rally that his family received body camera footage from Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office that day, but he said they didn’t have the chance to review this footage before the rally. Johnson said his family is still waiting to receive body camera footage from other law enforcement agencies involved, including New Hope and Crystal police, and a State Patrol helicopter.

Trahern Crews, Black Lives Matter Minnesota founder, commended Azad’s family at Friday’s rally for all they’ve been able to accomplish even though they don’t have an attorney. In addition to the body camera footage that was released, the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension also opened an investigation into the case last week. Crews said this investigation is unprecedented, given it’s been over eight months since Azad’s death.

Azad’s family wants all law enforcement agencies involved in his case to release all remaining body camera footage and details. “It hurts me because I have to go to sleep at night knowing that I don’t have answers,” Azad’s sister, Ayisha Johnson said. “He was such a beautiful person. He was my best friend and I loved him so much.”

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