‘They Called Him In As a Threat’: Minnesota Community Demand Answers After Police Kill Mentally Disabled Man with Groceries In-hand

A Minnesota family is grieving the loss of Kokou Christopher Fiafonou, 38, after he was gunned down last month by police in Austin, Minnesota, about a hundred miles south of Minneapolis.

“They called him in as a threat, and you know these white people think he’s a threat he didn’t even do nothing to nobody … he didn’t do nothing, he’s got a whole mental illness,” Fiafonou’s cousin Antranette Smith is heard saying in her Facebook Live video recording of police surrounding her home where Fiafonou was inside.

Fiafonou is from Togo in West Africa and was part of an emerging immigrant community in Austin, Minnesota. Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality and a family advocate, says Fiafonou was very religious and would often walk to a park close to his home to pray.

“He would cut little scrapings of wood like pieces of tree bark and little twigs, and he would burn them, and he would pray over the fires, and he believed that his prayers would go up in smoke up to heaven and that was his belief, and he had a little wood cutting knife and it wasn’t a machete,” Gross said, referring to police claiming Fiafonou possessed a machete when they encountered him on the afternoon of Dec. 22, 2021.

Austin Police say in a news release that they were dispatched to Fiafonou’s location after someone claimed he was walking in traffic armed with a machete. Police claim they sought verbal compliance from Fiafonou and followed him to his home and futilely tried to use a stun gun on him.

Police also claim Fiafonou threatened to hurt other people leading them to call their serious incident response team.

Police shot tear gas and other projectiles in the home for several hours to get Fiafonou outside the home. Gross says police eventually left the scene and the following day around 6 in the evening, police continued to monitor Fiafonou for what they claim was to ensure public safety.

At 9:30 that night, Fiafonou walked to a nearby gas station for groceries, and that is where he encountered police again.

“He walks up to the Kwik Trip, goes into the Kwik Trip, and the cops are watching all of this, and they let him go in the Kwik Trip, he buys his groceries and comes out he’s got two bags of groceries and they gun him down where he’s standing,” Gross said.

Austin police say Fiafonou confronted them armed with a knife, leading to Officer Zachary Gast fatally shooting the 38-year-old.

The shooting is now being investigated by the Minnesota Department of Public Safety and the agency says the Austin Police Department does not use body cameras but admits dashcam video of the incident exist.

Gross believes the shooting was, “predicated on racism” and she has little confidence in the state agency now in charge of the investigation, “that is not the agency that ought to be doing this investigation because they clear the cops every flipping time.”

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