The New York Police Department on Thursday released body cam footage from a fatal police shooting in the Bronx. It was the first time the agency has done so since cameras were added to the officers’ uniforms in April.
The footage from Sept. 6 showed police confronting Miguel Richards after his landlord called the officers to the apartment for a “wellness check,” according to WABC in New York.
Richards, a 31-year-old college foreign exchange student from Jamaica, had a history of mental health problems. The footage showed him standing in a room on the far side of a bed, wearing sunglasses, and not responding to the police when they asked him to put his hands up.
Richards had one hand behind his back for part of the encounter.
“Dude, what’s in your other hand? You understand, you are seconds away from getting shot if you don’t tell us what’s in that other hand,” one officer said. “Let me see your other hand. Do you want to die?”
The officers brought in one of Richards’ friends to try to persuade him to raise his hands. They even tossed a phone into the room with another friend on the line who urged Richards to surrender.
“That’s a lot of warnings by both uniformed officers as well as the friend that was at the scene,” said NYPD Chief of Department Carlos Gomez, per DNA Info.
A separate officer arrived and fired a Taser at Richards. Then, the previous officers opened fire and shot Richards 16 times. Police said Richards had raised a gun at the officers in that moment, which was not clearly seen on the video.
That gun turned out to be a toy.
Critics said the police didn’t do enough to defuse the situation. Their behavior made it “almost inevitable that this resulted in the shooting that it did,” Christopher Dunn, a lawyer with the New York Civil Liberties Union, told The New York Times.
“Mr. Richards seems to exhibit no immediate threat to the officers,” Tina Luongo, attorney-in-charge of the Criminal Practice at the Legal Aid Society, told DNA Info. “Moreover, these officers demonstrate zero knowledge in identifying and handling a situation involving an individual who may be struggling with mental illness.”
Officers are supposed to isolate standoff subjects and let the Emergency Services Unit take over, which is better trained for those situations, The New York Daily News reported. That unit had arrived on the scene but was still downstairs when the shooting took place.
Police training expert Eugene O’Donnell told CBS New York that the oficers were justified in opening fire.
“They waited very patiently as long as they could. Tried to resolve it non-violently, overwhelmingly these are resolved non-violently, and I guess the cops were hopeful this wouldn’t end in a horrific way,” he was quoted as saying.
Although the officers were not charged in the incident, the Bronx District Attorney is reviewing the case, ABC News reported.