Video footage has once again proven police frequently either assess a potential threat situation incorrectly or simply craft fictitious narratives to justify a wholly unnecessary use of force. Keston Charles miraculously survived being fired upon 16 times during a foot pursuit by the NYPD, who claimed the Brooklyn teen had drawn a weapon — but surveillance footage obtained exclusively by the New York Daily News proves the cops’ story was all but an outright lie.
On December 9, 2013, 15-year-old Charles had been armed only with a BB gun — which has drawn comparisons to the Cleveland police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014 — as he fled Officer Jonathan Rivera on foot.
Police had previously claimed Charles repeatedly took aim at Rivera with the BB gun, which the officer believed to be a real firearm — so Rivera, they said, had been justified in firing upon the teen 16 times.
But surveillance video flatly disputes that claim — showing that though Charles, indeed, ran from Rivera through a residential complex, he never once aimed the BB gun at the officer or acted in a threatening manner.
Charles was shot in the buttocks during the pursuit — then twice more, in the side and chest, after he dropped the fake weapon and was in the act of surrendering to police with his hands above his head, his lawyers stated.
“I put up my hands, they was still shooting,” Charles stated in a deposition, according to the Daily News.
Despite the particularly clear evidence captured on video, the city — as in, the police — still believe the footage proves its case.
“The officer’s claim that this young man repeatedly took aim at him with an unloaded toy gun not only defies logic, but it is blatantly contradicted by the video,” attorneys David Shanies, Phil Smallman, and Michael Colihan said in a statement quoted by the Daily News.
“What happened to Tamir Rice was a tragedy, and both cases are painful reminders of the urgent need to stop unjustified shootings of young African-Americans.”
To say this incident and its justification by police defies logic is quite the understatement. In fact, it would seem — as has been a pattern when video evidence disputes police claims — law enforcement attempts legerdemain through semantics, hoping the public will believe what they say to be true, not the facts as proven in the footage.
Officers Rivera and Kevin Franco observed Charles, a known gang member, snatching a BB gun from a rival during a dispute and pointing the toy weapon at another boy in December 2013.
During the ensuing foot pursuit, Rivera fired three separate volleys at Charles — 16 shots in total — as the chase wound its way through the Brownsville Houses, ending at the door to the teen’s building.
According to the Daily News, Elissa Jacobs, an attorney for the city, said in court documents Rivera fired because Charles “bladed,” or turned, his body sideways, angling toward police three times during the chase. Further, the teen “did not put his hands up to surrender before any round of shots.”
Surveillance video adamantly disputes this claim, showing Charles running with his back to officers, occasionally glancing over his shoulder. Although the teen did not initially put his hands up before being shot in the behind, Charles limps to his front door after being wounded — and then stops, putting his hands in the air, as Rivera continues firing.
Seriously wounded, Charles then slumps over a fence near the door, with his hands locked behind his head as a bevy of officers approach.
Shanies stated in court documents:
“(Rivera’s) bullets hit the building and created visible clouds of debris. (Charles) turned around with his hands on his head surrendering . . . One of Officer Rivera’s bullets struck (Charles) in the flank and another struck him in the chest.”
Even after being hit while surrendering, Charles somehow doesn’t reach for his wounds — which could have been distorted by police as reaching for a weapon or acting in a threatening manner — but instead continues to hold his hands above and behind his head, even as he falls to his knees.
In deposition, Charles explained his decision not to drop the BB gun was “[b]ecause I was scared for my life. I was trying to get away. I never been shot at before.”
And if the somewhat bumpy video evidence weren’t sufficiently plain to prove Charles’ defense on its own, his attorneys had Dr. Michael Baden, a renowned former New York City chief medical examiner, review physical evidence of the gunshot wounds and found “the bullet trajectories are consistent with Keston holding his arms up with his hands on top of his head as indicated in the video when he was shot in the chest.”
As the Daily News noted, the NYPD firearms discharge review board found the shooting in line with departmental policy regarding the use of deadly force, and thus the shooting, justified.
Charles’ excessive force lawsuit is based on the sheer number of shots fired — Rivera emptied the clip in his 9-mm service weapon. The teen had to be placed in a medically-induced coma for three weeks and endured surgery. Ultimately, he pled guilty to possession of a fake pistol.
Although the city claims Charles pointed the BB gun at Rivera, and that because the teen was only hit thrice out of 16 total shots fired, it proves “how fast he continued to move and that the threat to public safety had not been abated.”
Rivera, the city insists, continued firing until Charles no longer posed an imminent threat.
What possible imminent threat a fleeing teenager with an empty toy gun posed to public safety is entirely unclear in that particular argument — but it’s a veritable guarantee that narrative will be the crux of this case.
As with any police shooting, the details will undoubtedly be hashed out in the public sphere, debated endlessly, and draw in extraneous details such as the fact Charles was a gang member. But it’s imperative, rather than dissecting ad nauseum details of no import in the matter, to view video as it happened — which clearly shows a surrendering 15-year-old still being fired upon by a trigger-happy cop.
And there is no justification for that.