Shooting Video Shows Officers Gave Man 8 Seconds To Drop Gun

Jan 26, 2017

Video from Officer Bell's dash camera:

Video of two CMPD officers fatally shooting an 18-year-old last June seems to corroborate the officers' accounts. Police stopped Smith on North Tryon after he shot someone in the ankle on a CATS bus. CMPD released the video Thursday after a judge issued an order for police to do so. The body and dash cam video is the first to be released under a new state law that requires requests for police video to go through court.  

WFAE's Lisa Worf petitioned for that video. She joins us  now:

TERRY: Lisa, what do these videos tell us about the shooting?

WORF: We know from a still photo the district attorney's office released that Smith appeared to be holding something up like a gun. And that stance is much more apparent in the videos, especially officer Michael Bell's dash cam video. It's dark, around 10:20 at night. You can't see exactly what's in Smith's hand, but he's holding both arms, hands clasped together in front of him as he walks toward officer Tryon. At one point, Smith drops his left hand and continues holding up his right, while walking toward Tryon. Tryon said it took a few seconds for him make out the gun in Smith's hand. Once Tryon does he starts retreating and taking cover behind a car.  This is what you hear from Tryon's body camera:

"Hey man, let me see your hands. Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands. Let me see your hands! Put it down. Put it down," officer Garrett Tryon commands. Then, he yells drop the gun seven times before shots are fired.  

Video from Officer Tryon's body worn camera:

WORF: When watching Bell's dash cam, about eight seconds elapse between when you first see Smith holding up what appears to be a gun and before Bell starts firing. 

TERRY: How much of the actual shooting do you see?

WORF: Not much. That dashcam video provides the broadest view of the scene. But when the shots start Smith is out of the car's spotlight and a ways away. He appears as a small, blurry figure at that point. And both officers' body cams only catch glimpses of Smith. For example, as officer Tryon shoots, the bodycam is mostly focused on his forearms. We do see Smith briefly once he's on the ground and Tryon fires a second round.

TERRY: The officers say Smith fired one shot at them. Can you make that out in the video?

WORF: No, it's hard to say either way with that. But, yes, police noted that immediately following the shooting and the DA also said Smith fired at officers.

TERRY: What do these videos capture and don't capture about how the shooting happened?

WORF: We weren't sure how much we'd be able to make out from these videos. But what we do see corroborates the officers' accounts that Smith had a gun and at least pointed it at officer Tryon. Smith's family members wondered if officers mistook his cell phone for a gun. That looks unlikely just from seeing the way Smith was standing and walking, and then afterwards, on another officer's body cam, you can see Smith's cell phone in his pocket.

Video from Officer Kivette's body worn camera:

WORF: But there's a lot we can't see. For example, Tryon fired a second round of shots after Smith was already on the ground. You can't see what may have prompted those shots. In all, the officers fired at least 22 shots. 

TERRY: How did police decide what video to include?

WORF: We asked for all body and dash cam video and audio recordings regarding the pursuit and death of Smith.  CMPD Major Steve Willis said they released any video that showed the shooting and/or Smith's body afterwards.  In total, they released four complete body cam videos. These cameras are automatically triggered when their vehicle's lights go on. Officers turn them off once the investigation begins. Police also released two complete dash cam videos, including Bell's. But there's no video from Officer Tryon's car because not all CMPD cars have dash cams anymore.

TERRY: Why is that?

WORF: Former Police Chief Rodney Monroe began phasing them out with the push for more body cams. However, current Chief Kerr Putney is trying to secure funding once again to place dash cams in all patrol cars.  And when you look at these videos, the dash cam does provide the broadest, steadiest view of the shooting. With the body cams, you see a lot of the officer's forearms and the ground.  And just to note: it took CMPD about 20 hours to compile these videos. A lot of time went into making sure it was in a format that media outlets and the general public could easily see.  They expect that process to go faster going forward. 

TERRY: It took a lot of time and some money too to get this video.  Why did you want it? 

WORF: Police shootings are a big part of the public discourse in this country and in this city. The city council spent $7 million on equipping officers with body cameras as a tool of transparency. The first time I petitioned a judge for these videos, I was turned down because the DA hadn't weighed in on the case yet. But in his order, Superior Court Judge Eric Levinson pointed out that it is "axiomatic that people have an understandable interest in justice-sector processes and activities of police." Once the DA cleared these officers and I petitioned a second time, Superior Court Judge Jesse Caldwell, ruled there was a compelling public interest to release them. And it's interesting to note, CMPD supported releasing the videos on that second request too.  Police also supported the Charlotte Observer's request for footage in a 2012 case and Superior Court Judge Lisa Bell is working on an order to release video in that case.  

Video from Officer Bell's body worn camera: