Activists fuel speculation of a “brutal” police murder absent evidence to justify the claim

According to Black Lives Matter Twin Cities, Communities United Against Police Brutality, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and the family of Khalil Azad, an independent “community investigation” of Azad’s July 2022 death is required as they fuel speculation Azad was murdered by police and his death was covered up. This speculation is being justified because they claim there are “more questions than answers” surrounding Azad’s death.

The claims of these activist entities only serve to further undermine faith in the criminal justice system by sowing distrust through unsupported speculation. These entities should assist the Azad family in making meaningful and productive contact with the Robbinsdale Police Department, Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO), and Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office (HCME) to receive information the family needs to obtain closure. Instead, these entities are preying on the family’s emotions and encouraging them to adopt an adversarial stance, by doubting and mistrusting the very entities that can assist with closure.

Sowing this distrust in our institutions is damaging to us all, and only adds to the ongoing dysfunction in our communities.

Based on speculation, Azad’s family is demanding an investigation by the Department of Justice of all the law enforcement and medical examiner activity in the case, and a suspension of all police K-9 activity in the state of Minnesota. The cart is way out ahead of the horse here.

Facts known at this time are that on July 3, 2022, Azad was driving through Robbinsdale at about 1 AM when a Robbinsdale police officer attempted to stop him on suspicion of DUI. Instead of stopping, Azad did what so many feel is now justified, and fled the police in the vehicle. Azad crashed a short time later near Crystal Lake in Robbinsdale. Instead of giving up, Azad did what so many also feel is now justified and fled on foot from the vehicle. Police gave chase but were unsuccessful in locating Azad. A sheriff’s office K-9 and the State Patrol helicopter were called in to assist with a track but were also unsuccessful in locating Azad. Eventually the attempt to locate Azad was suspended, and the car was impounded. Two occupants of the car, who reportedly included Azad’s brother, claimed to not know the identity of Azad.

In the early afternoon of July 5, approximately 2½ days after Azad eluded police, a civilian reported a body floating near the shore of Crystal Lake. Authorities including the sheriff’s water patrol and the Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s Office recovered the body and identified it as Azad. A subsequent death investigation by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and autopsy by the Medical Examiner’s Office concluded that Azad died as the result of an accidental drowning, likely after entering Crystal Lake to elude police who were searching for him.

In early 2023, alleged photos of Azad’s autopsy began circulating on the internet. Speculation that the police had caused Azad’s death and were covering it up began to spread inappropriately after some claimed the photo’s showed Azad was beaten by police and bitten by a police K-9.

The family reported the ME had concluded there were no injuries to Azad’s body, but the family noted the photos showed what they believe were “bruises” and “dog bites.” Despite lacking direct knowledge of the case or the photos, I can say with some certainty that the “bruising” the family believes the photos showed was likely lividity, or the pooling of blood that occurs in a body after death. The “dog bites” similarly were likely the result of animal activity, from turtles or fish, that occur in water deaths when a body isn’t found for several days. Given these likelihoods and the natural rapid decay that occurs to an exposed body in July, it is not a surprise that Azad’s family finds the photos disturbing. However, speculation of police brutality and a coverup is baseless — and the activist entities fueling the speculation know better, but unfortunately benefit from the narrative.

“This is a situation that really requires an investigation by the community, not by some fake police, you know, phony investigation like they usually do, where they cover their own.”

Communities United Against Police Brutality

Other “facts” that the activist groups are suggesting are suspicious include that Azad was found in two feet of water; that he fled wearing a t-shirt, but his body was recovered without a t-shirt; that his eyes were open, yet a report states they were only half open when the body was recovered; and finally, that the car Azad had fled in (which reportedly didn’t belong to him) was not maintained by police after the initial investigation. Each of these items is obviously explainable and is likely clearly explained in the investigative reports. 

These “facts” do not represent information to justify undermining the integrity of our systems. The activist entities are doing harm by fueling speculation of some devious cover up, despite not yet collecting the information needed to conclude it. Yet fueling speculation is just what they are doing. 

This past week these entities held a web discussion where they discussed their concerns — find it here. It is interesting that in the same discussion they stressed the importance of not speculating and reacting on emotions, yet that is exactly what the group has done. For example, the CUAPB member stated she had not read the autopsy report but none the less concluded “an independent review of the autopsy” is necessary to obtain the truth. She justified this by claiming it a fact that police and medical examiners lie. Of course, not a single example or fact was offered to support this claim.

Sadly, the speculation has taken on a life of its own and wild inaccuracies have become “fact.” A recent TikTok video and other posts claim for example that Azad was “lynched” and his body thrown in the “river.”

Over the weekend, the Robbinsdale Police Chief announced he had made a request of the BCA to conduct an independent investigation. The BCA has not yet confirmed whether they will conduct a subsequent investigation. It doesn’t appear the family or activist entities would accept any conclusion that differs from their preconceived speculation. It would be better for the Robbinsdale Police, the HCSO, and the HCME to meet proactively with Azad’s family and provide them with all the information collected in the original investigation, answering any questions they have up front.

Feeding into speculation and conducting multiple independent investigations will only further serve to bolster the unwarranted narrative that rampant police brutality and murderous cover ups are the norm. 

In the end we all lose.