On 3rd July 2022, Robbinsdale police in Minnesota attempted to pull over an SUV in the 4200 block of County Road 81. Police said the driver, Khalil Azad, did not stop. The SUV struck a curb and a tree before the driver sped off on foot, with the police pursuing, the authorities said.
The police added that they did not catch up to Khalil, who was found dead two days later in Crystal lake. Following the medical examiner’s ruling that Khalil’s death was caused by ‘freshwater drowning,’ the case was seemingly forgotten.
However, the release of Khalil’s autopsy photos in 2023 cast doubt on the medical examiner’s conclusion, sparking protests and calls for justice and reigniting the inquiry into Khalil’s death.
The police reportedly pursued Khalil for about an hour before abandoning the search
Khalil Azad’s mother, Fatomeh Azad, reportedly started requesting body cam footage of the traffic stop in September 2022. The authorities released the footage in March 2023, following mounting pressure from the community. “I just want justice and I want answers,” Fatomeh told CBS News.
Khalil doesn’t appear in the recordings of the July 2022 traffic stop. Per the videos, the two passengers Khalid leaves in the vehicle, his brother and a woman, exit the vehicle as instructed by officers. They allegedly didn’t divulge Khalil’s identity.
The woman tells the officers that she owns the vehicle and had met the driver hours before the stop. She says she hasn’t been drinking nor seen Khalil display signs of drunkenness. “Why would he be fleeing if he didn’t have something on him he’s not supposed to?” Officer Heifort asks the woman. “We did find drugs in the car.”
Footage from another body cam shows officers searching the shoreline with the K-9 for about 45 minutes. “Police K-9!” Officer Heasley yells. “If you’re in here give yourself up! You’re gonna get bit!”
Another camera shows an officer searching the male passenger and confirming that he has a permit to carry. The officer says they have found a cell phone, a license plate, marijuana, and cocaine in the vehicle. The officers eventually turned off their body cameras.
According to the police, they abandoned the search for Khalil after a helicopter using a thermal imaging system failed to locate him.
Khalil’s family claims the body cam footage was tampered with and demands the release of recordings from other officers at the scene
MN Wrongfully Convicted Judicial Reform, Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, and Minnesota Teen Activists have joined Khalil Azad’s family in the search for answers about his death.
Following the release of body cam footage from the night of the traffic stop, they released a statement saying they could not review the footage conclusively. Also, they stated that the police had no reason to stop Khalil:
“The claim from Robbinsdale police is that Khalil Ahmad Azad was pursued due to driving while intoxicated. Khalil Ahmad Azad was in fact suffering from driving while black. We believe there was no probable cause for Robbinsdale police to initially pursue Khalil, he had not broken any laws while driving.”
Furthermore, they claim that the footage was tampered with: “We 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. We are concerned because there were absolutely no time stamps on the footage we watched.”
They further alleged that officers identified Khalil by name, although neither passenger revealed the driver’s identity. The statement continues:
“We also heard dogs barking while officers shouted, ‘get on the ground… put your hands up… identify yourself, or else we will release the dogs.’ We are concerned by the verbal exchanges we heard from officers on the scene, and we want answers to what officers were referring to in their conversations.”
Khalil’s family said they want to view body cam footage from the officers from other police departments who assisted with the search for Khalil.
Citing Khalil’s autopsy photos, multiple organizations claim Khalil was assaulted
The outrage regarding Khalil’s death stems from his autopsy photos, which reportedly show bruises and dog bites all over his body. “The autopsy says there are no bruises on Khalil’s body,” Black Lives Matter of Minnesota told CCX Media. “However, photos clearly show otherwise.”
Khalil’s family contests the ‘accidental drowning’ conclusion, claiming he was a proficient swimmer. “He was 6 ‘1″ so that’s why they don’t really believe that the family doesn’t believe he drowned in 2 feet of water or that he drowned in the lake,” Trahern Crews, a BLM spokesperson, said in a meeting hosted by CAIR-MN.
“We all know looking at those pictures there is something that needs to be done and it shouldn’t keep happening,” Ayisha Johnson, Khalil’s sister, said during a protest.
Torisha Garraway, founder of the Families Supporting Families Against Police Violence, claimed Khalil’s body was ‘brutally disposed of’. Jerome Richardson conceded that submersion in water distorted Khalil’s body but stated that the injuries on his body pointed to police brutality.
‘“Until we can have proper support and review the body camera footage, and have proper support from our community and attorneys, we cannot prove that. But today we stand in solidarity with the family,” Richardson said.
The family’s demands are an independent investigation into Khalil’s death, an investigation into the policies and procedures of the Hennepin County medical examiner, and the suspension of K-9 units in Minnesota. The BLM movement in Minnesota claims the community is comparing photos of Azad’s body to those of Emmitt Till.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is investigating Khalil’s death following a request by the Robbinsdale Police Department. Robbinsdale Police Chief Patrick Foley said:
“This past week, we have received inquiries with regards to the cause of death of Mr. Azad. Although a thorough investigation was completed last year, in an effort of transparency, we support an independent agency to review all relevant evidence, reports and information regarding this incident.”
Ayisha, Khalil’s sister, described Khalil as her best friend. “He basically had a beautiful smile,” Ayisha said. Khalil died two months after his daughter’s birth. “He always made sure to tell us to take care of his daughter, so we get to cherish his daughter,” Ayisha said.