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Minneapolis Police Were Cleared in the Killing of Terrance Franklin. Franklin’s Family Says a Video Proves He Was Executed—and Now the Case May Be Reopened

30 minute read

When Terrance Franklin was shot to death in a Minneapolis basement eight years ago, the only witnesses were the five police officers assembled to capture him. Two of them were bleeding—wounded by rounds from a police submachine gun the department declared the young Black man had managed to get control of in a brief struggle, a contest it said ended with Franklin’s death in a fusillade of immediate return fire. The officer who gave the most detailed account said the fatal encounter lasted “seconds.”

Franklin’s death was briefly a major story in the Twin Cities but nowhere else, not least because it was a story told by the police alone. On May 10, 2013, there was no body-camera footage that his skeptical family could demand be released, and no demands on the nightly news for an impartial inquiry. The Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) investigated its own officers and concluded they had heroically taken down a would-be cop killer.

But there was a video, and it suggests a different story.

The video, shot by a passerby, begins after Franklin is supposed to be dead. It runs 62 seconds and, in visual terms, reveals nothing of note: cops running up and down a tree-lined street outside a house. The audio, however, captured voices from the basement of that house, whose side door had been opened to retrieve the wounded. Shouts carried up the stairs and onto a soundtrack that seems—on first listening, and even second and third—to be merely a murky cacophony: sirens, voices, radio traffic and, toward the end, the roar of a descending airliner.

But with careful listening, and an assist from noise-filtering software, troubling words can be made out.

“Mookie!” some eight seconds into the recording, is the first, according to a forensic audio expert hired by Franklin’s family. “Mookie” had been Franklin’s nickname since childhood, and relatives say they recognize the voice as his. All five officers had sworn the suspect never uttered a word.

Nineteen seconds later, what seems to be the same voice implores: “Man, let me go!”

Other shouts are audible:

“Damn freakin’ n—-r!”

“Come out, little n—-r!

“Don’t go putting those hands up now!”

Moments later, Franklin is killed by 10 pistol shots, five of them to the head.

“This was a straight-up execution,” says Michael Padden, the attorney for the Franklin family, which in 2014 filed a wrongful-death lawsuit against the city of Minneapolis based on the recording. The lawsuit, which contains the language above, calculated that even if jurors could not make out every word, the tape exploded the police version of how Franklin had died. In addition to the prominent forensic audio expert who certified the authenticity of the recording, the family hired a forensic specialist in firearms. That expert reconstructed the shooting scene with the help of a private investigator who says two of the fatal bullets apparently were fired by officers holding their pistols side by side near Franklin’s head and pulling the triggers at the same time.

Ashley and Nehemiah look at images of Franklin on a cellphone
Ashley Martin, Franklin’s ex-girlfriend, and their 13-year-old son Nehemiah look at old images of Franklin on a cellphoneKevin Mohatt for TIME

“To me, it was like assassination, and it wasn’t right,” says Walter Franklin, Terrance’s father. “If he had his hands up, he should have came out the basement handcuffed.”

Franklin died on a cusp. Five years earlier, his death might have remained lost among the uncounted Black and brown people killed in police encounters before cameras became ubiquitous. His family’s suspicions would have gathered not traction, but sympathetic nods: their word against the police’s. Had he been killed five years later, an outside agency would have investigated, perhaps with vigor. And Terrance Franklin might have been among the names that his father, listening to the radio one day this spring, heard a Minneapolis DJ solemnly recite: “… George Floyd, Jamar Clark, Justine Damond and others.”

Walter Franklin was so agitated he called the announcer. “I said, ‘You didn’t mention my son.’ He said, ‘What’s your son’s name?’ I said, ‘Terrance Franklin.’ He said, ‘I said others.

“And I felt like, My son’s name is not others.

To me, it was like assassination, and it wasn't right.

The elder Franklin says he no longer has faith in Minnesota authorities and is now looking to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) to prosecute the five officers. On April 21, the day after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin was convicted of murdering George Floyd, Attorney General Merrick Garland announced an investigation of the MPD. Investigators from the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division will look for a “pattern or practice” that violates constitutional rights, starting with “persistent patterns of misconduct.”

The Franklin case should qualify. The SWAT officer who fired the most rounds into Franklin’s head, Lucas Peterson, had been named in 13 complaints involving excessive force at the time, and settlements by the city and other agencies totaling $700,000. Peterson used a choke hold on a Black man in 2002, whose subsequent death was ruled a homicide, and in 2006 falsely reported that a Black woman attacked a fellow officer, which was disproved by surveillance video.

The video in the Franklin case would reveal more, but it was probed neither by Minneapolis police nor Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman, the prosecutor charged with keeping the police honest.

A Narrative Sets In

Instead, officials doubled down on a narrative, one casting the fatal encounter not as a police chase gone catastrophically awry, but as a thrilling showdown with a supervillain. Franklin was described as a dangerous Black man in dreadlocks intent on killing police and weirdly impervious to pain, who crashed a car, attacked a police dog, overpowered the SWAT police officers who rushed to the animal’s rescue, gained control of a submachine gun strapped to one of them and squeezed off two rounds, both on target.

It’s a narrative that conformed less to facts—many of which would prove fanciful—than to familiar tropes about Black male suspects. And it began taking shape even before Franklin reached the basement. On an open police channel, a report went out that the suspect they were chasing had tried to run down a sergeant. Surveillance video shows that Franklin did no such thing, but the all-points broadcast amped up the officers racing across the city to join the pursuit.

“Half of them you could tell were scared sh-tless, and half, this was the greatest day of their lives,” recalls Jimmy Gaines, who found himself across the street from the house the police surrounded more than an hour into the chase. When he heard two “booms,” he reached into his pocket for his iPod Touch and pointed it toward the house on Bryant Avenue South.

“Something was going to happen,” Gaines says. “I filmed to see how it would play out.”

Jimmy Gaines, whose recording is key to allegations of police misconduct in Terrance Franklin’s death
Jimmy Gaines, whose recording is key to allegations of police misconduct in Terrance Franklin’s deathAaron Nesheim for TIME

In the autopsy report, Franklin began to resume his normal dimensions. The police had described him as 196 lb. He weighed 173. The tattoo on his left forearm, Mookie, was what he had been called since he was a boy, growing up in his father’s house on the city’s historically Black north side. Nehemiah, the name on the other forearm, is his son, who was 4 years old when Franklin died. Franklin was no longer with Nehemiah’s mother, Ashley Martin, but she said he sent money when he had it, and covered half the cost of birthdays, Christmases and school supplies. He had taken the boy to the Mall of America the previous week. Now 13, Nehemiah says he knows his father mostly from what his mother tells him (“He would sing a lot,” she says, “and to me he wasn’t the best singer”) and what he can find online: “About like him and the cops and stuff.”

“He had a good head on his shoulders,” says Walter Franklin, who knows the hazards facing Black men in Minneapolis. A police officer shot and killed his uncle Hosie Walton Jr. in 1987; three years later, a 17-year-old cousin, Tycel Nelson, was outside a party when an officer fatally shot him in the back. Walter Franklin says his own parents raised him to steer clear of dangerous company, and he taught his kids to do the same. Two of them went to St. Thomas University, and a son, “Little Walt,” became a mechanical engineer.

Terrance was on a shakier path. He had become a father at 17 and had worked only intermittently, in warehouses and a shoe store. What the Minneapolis police described as “an extensive criminal history” included an assortment of misdemeanor arrests and at least two felony convictions, including one in 2011 for assault, after using a knife on a store clerk who caught him shoplifting.

Still on probation for that offense, Franklin was circling the edge of the hard things his father had warned him against. About a year before he died, he was shot by a man Walter Franklin described as a friend of Nehemiah’s mother. Another relative said that when police arrived, they handcuffed Terrance before realizing he was the victim. But if Franklin harbored hard feelings toward cops, they were not apparent to his family. Martin said he “wanted to do something with law enforcement,” perhaps become a probation officer or work in corrections.

Read more: It’s Time to Radically Rethink Public Safety in America

Other times he thought he could make it as a rapper. His stage name, P. Cutty, was also his Twitter handle, and the portrait that emerges from both his posts and his music is of an attractive young man whose abiding interests were reefer and women. On the day he died, Franklin’s application to a local technical college was in the backseat of one girlfriend’s car. He was driving the borrowed car of another girlfriend to visit a third.

At 2:09 p.m., the blue PT Cruiser was parked outside her apartment building on Lyndale Avenue in south Minneapolis. Franklin was behind the wheel beside the woman, whose two small children were in the back. He was rolling a blunt; on surveillance footage, his hand flicks stems out of the car’s sunroof.

The building’s manager was watching Franklin remotely, convinced this was the same person who had burglarized an apartment a few days earlier. He had called 911, and now three police cars pulled into the lot. Two moved beyond camera range while the third, driven by Sergeant Katherine Smulski, stopped near the parking lot entrance, in full view of a surveillance camera. Smulski got out of the car and leveled her gun, leaving open the driver’s side door that now blocked the way to the exit. Franklin backed up slowly, paused 10 seconds, then drove away, nudging shut the open door in order to reach Lyndale.

With that, Franklin became not only a “flee,” but a wannabe cop killer, transformed by a radio call that described him as trying to hit an officer. The tape shows Franklin making a wide arc around Smulski, and Smulski then scampering forward to kick the PT Cruiser’s rear fender as it passed, but two years later, she insisted under oath: “I contend he was trying to injure or kill me.”

Nobody knows why Franklin ran. If it was not guilty knowledge of the earlier burglary, it may have been fear that the marijuana in his hand would send him to jail. Then there was a stolen 9 mm Desert Eagle pistol found, months later, hidden under a porch near where Franklin left the car. He may have been holding it for someone. Police said they did not suspect Franklin of stealing it, and his DNA was found only on the sock it was in.

He told her he heard footsteps upstairs and what sounded like a police dog. Then the phone went dead.

A few blocks away, Franklin abandoned the car, with the woman and children in it, and set off on foot. As he ran, he carried only his phone. He called the woman who owned the car and told her where to find it. He ducked into a bicycle shop, paced nervously and asked into his phone, “Are they gone?” then dashed out again. An officer saw him cross one street, then another, but not the third, and a four-square-block residential area was cordoned off. Inside it, Franklin forced open the back door of a house where no one was home, put on a robe from an upstairs closet and headed for the basement. He tried calling a woman he had lived with for eight months, an ex-girlfriend who had sent him packing over the other women, but she’d changed her number. At 3 p.m., he messaged her on Facebook: “Call me.” When she did 10 minutes later, he asked her to come get him. She drove toward the house but could not get past the police cordon. She called Franklin back to ask him what he had done. He had no answer. She says they talked for at least 15 minutes, exchanging I love yous and reassurances. “He was going to jail. That’s what he was trying to get across to me,” she said later. “And he asked me, you know, ‘Are you going to wait for me? Are you going to talk to me?’”

From a window in the basement, Franklin could see officers moving between houses. “I’m pretty sure they’ve figured out where I am,” he said. He told her he heard footsteps upstairs and what sounded like a police dog. Then the phone went dead.

‘According to Police’

In 2013, police in no major U.S. city wore body cameras. Smartphones were not in even half of Americans’ pockets. The most dramatic and violent events were described in newspapers and on newscasts in sentences ending with the words according to police. But law enforcement’s power to dictate reality was about to be challenged, by technology and by the angry awakening that first erupted in Ferguson, Mo., a year later. As a movement, Black Lives Matter expanded with proof that all was not as we had been told. But when Franklin was killed, the story that emerged was told only by the MPD. And in it, the protagonist was the dog.

“The canine located the suspect inside the residence, and while trying to apprehend the suspect, the suspect attacked the canine,” then police chief Janeé Harteau told a news conference that day. “Additional officers entered the residence to help the canine handler and the canine. An intense struggle then ensued.” (Police issued a statement later stating that the dog was home safe with its handler.)

In truth, no one knew what had happened. Two of the five officers involved had left in ambulances; they would not be interviewed for at least 14 days. The others gave statements three and four days later. But first they were escorted separately to city hall. If five civilians emerged from a room with a corpse, they could expect to be questioned separately, to have their stories compared, and to then be questioned again. But the policy of the Minneapolis Police Department not only barred officers involved in shootings from being questioned for several days, it also directed that they be placed in a room together and allowed to talk among themselves with a representative of their union. They would share a lawyer. “There was no attempt to prevent the officers from getting together before they gave their statements,” Harteau acknowledged later.

Ashley Martin, Franklin’s ex-girlfriend, and their 13-year-old son Nehemiah
Ashley Martin, Franklin’s ex-girlfriend, and their 13-year-old son NehemiahKevin Mohatt for TIME

In any event, the police department had scant incentive to press any of them. In terms of public relations, the day had been a disaster. Two wounded cops and a dead Black man were bad enough. To make matters worse, a squad car racing to the scene had run a red light, killing a motorcyclist and badly injuring his passenger. The crash happened a half hour after Franklin was dead; there was no emergency to rush to. Harteau had been in office less than a year.

All of this argued for taking the investigation away from the Minneapolis Police Department.

“I don’t believe there’s a major agency in the country left that investigates their own shootings. They just don’t do it,” says Rich Stanek, who in 2013 was the Hennepin County sheriff. His department investigated police-involved shootings for all but one of Hennepin’s 44 municipal departments. The exception was Minneapolis; it declined Stanek’s offer to handle the Franklin inquiry.

“They didn’t want that level of scrutiny,” Stanek says. “I mean, I’m convinced of it. Others are convinced of it. It’s just the way it was.”

Months later, the Minneapolis police chief would relent. Beginning in 2014, she said, officer-involved shootings in the city would be investigated by an outside agency—not the sheriff’s office, but the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, or BCA, a state agency that reports to the Commissioner of Public Safety. Franklin’s death would be the last Minneapolis police shooting investigated by Minneapolis police.

Read more: Society is Paying the Price for America’s Police Training Methods

When the SWAT officers finally were interviewed, all five—Peterson, Michael Meath, Ricardo Muro, Mark Durand and Andrew Stender—laid out the same scenario. Their statements varied mostly in vividness. The police dog, they said, had found Franklin in the small, crowded basement, squeezed behind a hot-water heater near a staircase. The dog had latched onto the sleeve of the robe and possibly Franklin’s leg, but Franklin did not budge. Nor did he respond to a punch in the face or a blow from a flashlight, both delivered by Stender.

“I watched in amazement as the suspect appeared to have no reaction,” Peterson declared. Meath said: “I remember the suspect had a blank stare on his face, and his eyes appeared to be blank.”

At this point, all five SWAT officers, a dog and the suspect were crammed into an extremely cluttered space measuring perhaps 4 by 6 ft. As the officers told it, Meath was kneeing Franklin in the chest when Franklin lunged “like a football player” and knocked Meath across the room. Then he punched Peterson in the face, freed himself from Peterson’s grip and knocked down Durand, who was wearing the MP5 submachine gun—the trigger of which, Durand says, Franklin managed to reach and pull twice while the two of them were falling.

They landed on the floor in an adjacent laundry room, according to the officers’ accounts. Peterson said Franklin now “had control of” both Durand and the submachine gun. In an almost cinematic blow-by-blow, Peterson described how, in the dark room, the flashlight attached to the barrel of the MP5 had been turned on.

George Floyd, when that happened to him, it just reopened a whole thing for me.

“I remember seeing it travel up my uniform shirt, and it began to track up toward my head,” Peterson said. He threw himself onto the upraised barrel: “I used myself and my vest essentially as a body bunker for the officers behind me and to prevent the suspect from shooting me in the head.” Then, groping for Franklin’s head, Peterson said, he felt dreadlocks and fired several rounds into the skull—by chance, at the same instant the wounded Meath also fired.

It was a thrilling story and, for the Minneapolis Police Department, satisfying. Eight days after the shooting, the SWAT officers had replaced the German shepherd at the center of the police narrative when the Star Tribune quoted unnamed police sources as saying that Franklin had grabbed the gun Durand wore strapped to his body by a nylon sling. A few months later, the same newspaper was leaked crime lab results that detected Franklin’s DNA on the trigger. The officers’ interlocking accounts served to seal the case when they were released in a 228-page bundle of police reports, memos and transcripts made public on Sept. 24, 2013.

The reports contained no mention of any attack on the police dog, or of the surveillance footage that showed Smulski scampering to kick Franklin’s car. Several officers had, however, made note of the on-air allegation that Franklin had tried to run her down. One officer wrote: “At approximately 1416 hours Channel 3 broadcasted [sic] that the Black male who attempted to run over the Minneapolis Police officer was in a bike store …” Durand, in a van carrying the SWAT team to the manhunt, heard the report and called it out to the officers seated further back in the van. Later, asked under oath if the report of an attempt of an officer’s life had made him angry, Durand replied, “It didn’t make me happy.”

Other contradictions in the mass of documents went unremarked: Meath said he saw Franklin sitting on the ground with Peterson “directly on top of him,” but also described Franklin “going limp against Officer Peterson.” It was not explained how Durand, who was said to have been beneath Franklin, was not drenched in blood from Franklin’s wounds. Crime-scene technicians found no blood at all on the MP5, a detail noted by the federal judge who denied the city’s motion to dismiss the family’s lawsuit. And Franklin’s hands, alleged to have twice fired an officer’s weapon, were never tested for gunshot residue.

‘It didn’t pass the smell test.’

Ed Felien, a former city council member who publishes the monthly Southside Pride community newspaper, noted another puzzle: the autopsy report said all the bullets entered Franklin’s head from the right. If the right-handed Peterson was on top of Franklin and facing him, as Meath said, his bullets should have entered Franklin’s left side. “It didn’t pass the smell test,” says Felien.

Still, the state’s major news outlets repeated the police narrative, and the county attorney defended it. The department showcased its report hours after prosecutor Freeman announced that a grand jury, summoned as a matter of course after a police shooting, had cleared the officers.

“The criminal process is now complete,” Freeman declared.

Read more: People Expected Police Behavior to Change After George Floyd’s Murder. The Numbers Tell a Different Story

Jimmy Gaines never heard from the police. Three weeks after the shooting, the Franklin family’s attorney, Padden, held a news conference calling attention to the video and to the racial epithets he said were audible on it. By then, police had downloaded the video from YouTube, where Gaines had posted it right after the shooting. They could not make out much, but on the YouTube version, there’s not much to hear. To make room for the billions of videos uploaded to the platform, YouTube routinely pares them down, diluting their quality. The YouTube version of the Gaines video was 7% the size of the file on Gaines’ iPod Touch.

The police could have learned this by obtaining the original, or consulting an expert. They did neither. Nor did prosecutors, who ostensibly were running quality control on the department’s investigation into itself.

“Their job is to make sure that the investigation was done,” says Stanek, who estimates his office investigated eight to 12 police shootings a year when he was sheriff. “Usually in an investigation like this, into a shooting, a homicide, an officer-involved shooting, you would get what we call a wish list back from the county attorney saying you need to further look into this. You need to do another interview. You need to take this evidence and redo the DNA. You need to take that tape and get it enhanced and break it down, the syntax and what exactly it says.”

Justice to me would look like the officers being prosecuted.

The job instead fell to the Franklin family. Padden hired a local private investigator named R. Steven Rogers, who listened to the recording again and again. With headphones, Rogers says he heard a lot, and even more after shelling out $200 for a device known as a DragonFly that bypassed his computer’s sound card. The more Rogers heard, the more he believed he understood why Minneapolis police had so little interest in the recording.

The audio does not reveal precisely what happened in the basement. But it appears to reveal what did not: Franklin could hardly have been killed in a brief struggle for a gun if there’s evidence he was still alive on the recording. Gaines, after all, says he did not begin recording until he’d heard two booms, which would have been the shots that hit Muro and Meath. “Officer shot!” may be the plainest words on the video, shouted by an officer nine seconds into the recording. But that officer is passing on what he’s already heard; Rogers’ review of police radio traffic found that the first alert (“We got shots fired”) had been broadcast 24 seconds earlier. If there had been a struggle that Peterson said lasted “no longer than seconds,” Franklin would have been dead.

Yet someone was shouting: “My name is Mookie!” Ed Primeau, the forensic audio expert hired by the family, heard it at his computer console in suburban Detroit. A onetime probation officer, Primeau first made his name in 1979 by recovering audio for the FBI in a sting operation against Detroit judges. He has examined the flight recordings of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370, the airplane that disappeared in 2014, and confirmed a viral video of a Chicago police shooting as a fake.

At his “acoustically perfect” office, Primeau first established the Gaines video as authentic (no signs of tampering), then prepared to listen. He says he insisted that neither Padden nor Rogers tell him what they had heard. In order to testify as an independent expert, Primeau says he makes a point of listening with virgin ears. Running the 62-second recording through commercially available software, he lifted out the extraneous to isolate the specific, especially voices. As he worked, he watched a graphic readout of the sounds he was detecting.

“I like to explain it as like peeling an onion,” Primeau says. “You do layer by layer. You apply some filtering and then you listen.”

Primeau did not confirm everything Rogers had heard, but that does not mean the language is not there, he says. “We all have different sound perception,” Primeau says. “And when anybody were to listen to that recording, they would perceive the events a little bit different.”

Still, the snippets documented in his final report—“My name is Mookie!” “Get out of here …” “Damn freakin’ …” “Let me go!” “Stand up!” “Come out …” “… Put those hands up now”—appeared damning.

The recording not only undercut the police account, it offered the outline of an alternative narrative that was put forward in the family’s lawsuit: that Durand had accidentally fired his own gun, injuring Muro and Meath, and that his fellow officers had killed Franklin and claimed self-defense to cover up the blunder.

Our team decided that the most likely thing that happened was they pulled him up by the hair. Boom. 1-2-3 BAM.

The accidental-discharge scenario could explain Durand’s ambiguous statements to uninvolved officers directly after the shootings: “It was my gun, Sarge,” he told one. Another recalled that when Durand handed over his weapon, “He said something to me which at the time didn’t make any sense. I believe what he said was: ‘This is the gun that caused the injuries.’” The actions of that same officer could explain how Franklin’s DNA ended up on the trigger: the officer had placed his fingers on Franklin’s neck and arm, checking for a pulse, and then been handed the MP5, possibly leaving what’s known as “touch DNA” from Franklin on the weapon. (Later, the officer would say he had worn gloves when he touched Franklin—something he said he’d not mentioned in his initial report—and removed them before handling the weapon.)

But the most troubling evidence was not on the tape. Padden hired an expert in firearm forensics, Richard Ernest of Fort Worth, who with Rogers reconstructed Franklin’s shooting in the actual basement. All of the bullets had been mapped and recovered by crime-scene investigators, and the medical examiner had traced their paths as they penetrated Franklin. Working backward, Ernest and Rogers created a 3-D model of the shooting that brought Rogers “to the realization that this could very well have been not only wildly different than what the official report said, but something much darker.” A crime-scene photo showed two slugs, a 9 mm and a 45 mm, passed side by side through a door, not an inch apart. Peterson used a 9 mm that day, Meath a 0.45. “You’re not going to have two random shots wind up next to each other like that,” Rogers says. “They had to have been fired essentially at the same time.” Evidence photos also showed a dreadlock on the floor, next to where Franklin fell dead. Rogers speculates it was left there as an enraged officer yanked Franklin’s head in preparation to kill him. “Our team decided that the most likely thing that happened was they pulled him up by the hair. Boom. 1-2-3 BAM,” he says.

That was the story Padden was preparing in the summer of 2019 to lay before a federal jury. Years had passed since the shooting, most spent waiting for courts to make rulings. In 2016, a federal judge had refused to dismiss the wrongful-death suit against the city, stating that the Gaines video and other evidence raised questions “regarding the sequence of events leading to the use of deadly force against Franklin, as well as the existence and nature of any threat posed by Franklin when the officers shot him.” The city appealed the ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court, but in 2018, the Justices refused to hear the case.

Nehemiah prepares to release balloons in commemoration of the death of his father while his mother Ashley, his 4-year-old bother, Prince, and 3-year-old sister, Zyla, watch nearby
Nehemiah prepares to release balloons in commemoration of his father while his mother Ashley, his 4-year-old bother, Prince, and 3-year-old sister, Zyla, watch nearbyKevin Mohatt for TIME

The city had likewise been disappointed by its own forensic experts, the outside digital-audio specialists who neither police nor prosecutors had sought out to plumb the Gaines tape. Confronted with a lawsuit based on what the tape contained, the city’s lawyers retained a pair of respected former FBI audio specialists who do business as BEK-TEK. Their 14-page report did not dispute Primeau’s findings of what could be heard on the Gaines recording. Forensically, the best BEK-TEK could do for the city was opine that none of what’s audible could have originated from beneath the house, because their firm had tried and failed to duplicate the recording. Primeau had tried too, traveling to the basement and having people shout and fire blanks while recording on an iPod Touch from exactly where Gaines had stood. All was in vain. “In this particular case, the sounds from across the street—it almost seems impossible that this device could pick up all the activity that it did,” Primeau says.

Yet it had.

Read more: ‘A Nightmare Being Replayed’ as Cop Faces Trial in George Floyd’s Death

As the trial date approached, the city faced a decision. Its attorneys would have to account for Peterson’s record of excessive force and falsehood and a troubling ballistic report from the family’s firearms expert. The parking-lot video was clear. The passages on the Gaines recording that seemed to be most audible to most listeners and to potential jurors (especially using headphones and a transcript) were chilling: “Don’t go putting those hands up now” and the N word.

Minneapolis elected to settle. On Feb. 14, 2020, the city council voted to pay Franklin’s estate $795,000. Afterward, council president Lisa Bender sounded an optimistic note: “I think our policy changes in the police department, leadership changes, have really created a scenario where this is unlikely to happen again.”

George Floyd was murdered three months later. Police initially said his death was “a medical incident”; a witness’ cell-phone video showed otherwise.

“George Floyd, when that happened to him, it just reopened a whole thing for me,” Walter Franklin says. “It took me—it took me back to where I could hear my son crying out for his life in that basement. Each bullet wound as his body took, I heard that with my own ears.”

Franklin’s survivors say they do not equate the settlement with justice, especially after the conviction of Chauvin. “Justice to me would look like the officers being prosecuted,” says Ashley Martin.

It could still happen. The prosecutor has moved to reopen the case. The reversal has not been previously reported and was made during the course of TIME’s reporting for this article, as well as the circulation of Padden’s book on the case, Blue Code of Silence, self-published in October 2020. “Our office reviewed the new evidence that was not available to us at the time we took the case to the grand jury,” a spokesperson said in a June 22 email. “As a result, we sent a letter in early May to the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension suggesting they should consider doing a new investigation. The BCA was not the original investigating agency so they would be taking an outside, independent look.”

Freeman’s May 4 letter to BCA Superintendent Drew Evans references the Franklin family’s lawsuit at length, highlighting the tape, Primeau’s findings and the possible explanation for Franklin’s DNA on the weapon. “There is a great deal more information in the lawsuit papers,” Freeman concludes. “My question to you is, has anyone made you aware of this information, either in 2013 or more recently? I understand that the BCA’s newly created Use-of-Force Unit is willing to review cases that were not originally investigated by the BCA. This might be an appropriate case for the unit to review.”

A BCA spokesperson said, “We are currently evaluating what our involvement in the case would be, if any.”

Minneapolis police referred all questions to the city attorney’s office, which did not respond to questions from TIME.

All five officers remain on the force. Peterson’s LinkedIn profile identifies him as trainer coordinator for the SWAT team.

—With reporting by Leslie Dickstein and Mariah Espada

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Write to Josiah Bates at josiah.bates@time.com