In southern Minnesota, a police officer from the Austin Police Department shot and killed Kokou Christopher Fiafonou, a Black immigrant man with mental disabilities.
Kokou Christopher Fiafonou, age 38, was originally from Togo in West Africa. He was apart of the growing community of immigrants in the Austin, Minnesota area.
He was a husband and father of three.
Family, friends, and community members rallied to demand justice for Fiafonou.
Michelle Gross, president of Communities United Against Police Brutality, described Fiafonou as a religious man who practiced and prayed using natural materials found in a nearby park.
"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."
The police made a claim Fiafonou was in possession of a machete when they had an encounter on December 22, 2021.
Reports said the police were dispatched to Fiafonou's location after someone called claiming he was walking in traffic with a machete. Police claimed they attempted to get verbal compliance from Fiafonou while following him home.
During that time, police attempted to tase him but failed. They also claimed Fiafonou was threatening others which escalated their response.
Fiafonou then retreated into his home. That began a 24 hour long stand off between the police and Fiafonou.
Antranette Smith, Fiafonou's cousin, went live on Facebook and shared the moments when police surrounded her home.
Smith said to those watching:
“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."
Police used pepper spray, tear gas and foam bullets to get Fiafonou to come out of the house.
Gross said the police eventually left the area. Fiafonou finally emerged on Thursday night at 9:30 and walked to a nearby Kwik Trip gas station to get groceries.
“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."
Police, who had been monitoring him since 6:00pm, assert Fiafonou exited the Kwik Trip and approached them with a knife.
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension identified officer Zachary Gast as the shooter. Gast has been with the police for two years and now awaits investigation with paid leave. Paid administrative leave is considered regular practice for police under investigation for a shooting.
Fiafonou died of several gun shot wounds according to the medical examiners office. Austin Police Department does not require officers to wear body cameras but footage of the incident was caught on dash camera.
Community members are demanding justice.
The GoFundMe page dedicated to funeral costs and other expenses for Fiafonou's family, said:
"Christopher was a dedicated, loving father, husband, son, brother and friend."
"Christopher worked hard to support his family and wanted his wife and children to have the best of everything and also was the sole provider of the house here in USA and his home country too."
A speaker at the rally noted:
"Most of all, besides our housing, they destroyed our family because they took somebody from us that they love."
"Material things are not important to us right now."
"What's important to us is getting justice."
The protesters gathered in a circle to pray for his family.
After the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension complete their investigation, the findings will be sent to the Mower County Attorney’s Office for review where the decision to press charges will be determined.