The nation’s largest police force Thursday released, for the first time, video footage from officers’ body cameras that captured a fatal shooting this month in New York City.
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The NYPD acted, over the objection of local prosecutors, in response to public pressure over the Sept. 6 fatal shooting in the Bronx of a knife-wielding man with a history of mental illness.
The footage showed two officers instructing the man, Miguel Richards, 31, no fewer than 50 times to drop a knife and what turned out to be toy gun before fatally shooting him.
“Let me see your hand,” Officer Mark Flemming told Richards in the video. “Put your hand up, drop that knife. I don’t want to shoot you.”
Flemming’s partner, Officer Redmond Murphy, repeatedly instructed Richards, “Put it down!”
Richards was never heard uttering a word.
The officers asked Richards to drop the knife 44 times and to drop the gun six times, Chief of Department Carlos Gomez said, before firing 16 shots that killed Richards.
“It appears that [when] Mr. Richards raises his hand you actually see a red dot emanating from an object in his hand,” Gomez said.
This was the first officer-involved fatal shooting recorded by police body cameras since the NYPD started equipping officers with them in April.
The officers have not been charged, though the Bronx District Attorney's Office is reviewing the incident.
Bronx District Attorney Darcel Clark had hoped the NYPD would wait to put out the video until after her office concluded its investigation.
“Releasing videos to the public during the early stages of an investigation may resolve some questions about the incident but it may compromise the integrity of the investigation,” Clark said in a statement.
In a message to the rank and file, Police Commissioner James O’Neill paid tribute to the “exceptional” restraint he said the officers showed. He also emphasized transparency as an essential component in building community trust but stressed the decision to release the footage did not represent a formal policy.
“We are reviewing each incident on a case-by-case basis,” his message said.
The footage showed officers tossing a phone into the room. A friend of Richards on the other end joined the chorus of voices urging him to drop his weapons and put his hands up. A friend who arrived in person repeatedly chimed in: “Dude, put your hands up, I’m begging you. Dude, put the knife down, I’m begging you. Just do this.”
In addition to the knife, Richards was also holding a toy gun.
“What’s in your other hand?” Flemming demanded in the footage. “You understand you are seconds away from getting shot?”
Two additional officers then arrived with Tasers. Murphy warned: “I will shoot you if that’s a real gun.”
The Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association warned against releasing the footage.
"The release of this footage sets a dangerous precedent that jeopardizes police officers' due process rights and confidentiality protections under state law,” the union said in a statement.