Luis Rivera clearly pulled a gun on police before he was shot dead, outgoing NAACP chapter President Ted Ward said.
The city has released the police car dashcam video that shows parts of the encounter in which officers shot and killed Luis Rivera on State Street in 2011.
The cameras on the police cars do not show the entire situation, because none of the cameras were pointed directly at the action. But included on the video are the first interviews by police of the officers who shot Rivera.
When asked if Rivera pointed his gun at police, one officer said, “He was holding it out. ... It was coming out of his pocket and I just …”
He paused for a long moment.
“I hope that was a real (expletive) gun, dude,” he said.
Two minutes later, in another interview, one officer criticized himself for not looking more closely at Rivera, who threw his gun away as police shot at him.
“I didn’t even see where he (expletive) threw the gun,” the officer said. “I hope it’s a real gun.”
“It’s not,” another officer told him bluntly.
Some members of the NAACP had claimed that police shot Rivera without reason, one person going so far as to say that Rivera was shot after he was in custody and handcuffed. Schenectady County District Attorney Robert Carney assured them that was not the case, but they said they wanted to see the video.
After seeing it Friday, Ward said, “He did obviously have a gun.”
But he said Rivera’s mother, who has also seen the video, still felt police should not have shot him.
“She felt it was unjustifiable,” he said. “I think the officers could have been more cautious in the approach of the individual and in observing whether this individual was going to point or beginning to point [a gun].”
Rivera’s mother, Ivette Cedres, could not be reached.
The video shows Rivera walked quickly away from police, ignoring Sgt. William Fennell’s shouts for him to stop. Police had received reports that Rivera was walking up State Street waving a gun and threatening to hurt someone with it. Several passersby had described Rivera in detail, so Fennell was confident he was chasing the right man.
Rivera quickly crossed State Street to get away from Fennell, then looked over his shoulder and tried to run as Fennell chased him.
Fennell grabbed him by the shirt, but Rivera pulled free, ignoring the fifth attempt by police to stop him. Instead, he reached under his shirt, in the direction where police had been told he was hiding a gun.
He stepped out of the camera frame at the same time.
A moment later, Fennell and two other officers suddenly reacted to what they could see outside the camera frame. They pulled their guns, shouting that Rivera had a gun. After shooting, they holstered their guns and ran out of the camera frame. But they could be heard shouting in confusion: “Where’s the gun?”
It was only then that they realized the truth.
Rivera had pulled out a non-working gun. And rather than shoot at officers, he threw it away from him.
It is not clear whether he threw it immediately or while he ran, but it was found across the street, near the location where he pulled it out. Critics said he must have thrown the gun immediately and that police should have seen that and held their fire.
But the video makes it clear police thought, for a few brief seconds, that their lives were in jeopardy. They reacted with fear, shouting at Rivera even after he fell to the ground.
As he moaned, “I’m hit, I’m hit,” they told him to spread out his hands so they could be sure he wasn’t hiding a weapon.
“Put your hands out,” they shouted. One officer added anxiously, “Can you see his hands?” Another officer, standing further away, shouted back, “I can’t see his right hand!”
An officer moved forward to search Rivera. Another officer, trying to intimidate Rivera into not attacking, said to him, “If you [expletive] move, I’m going to kill you.”
Rivera was unarmed and moaned in pain. The officer answered, “Relax. Don’t you [expletive] move.”
In perhaps the most telling comment of the entire video, after realizing Rivera had taken out his gun but not attempted to shoot with it, one officer demanded of Rivera, “Dude, why the [expletive] you do that? You kidding me?”
After the truth became clear, police seemed to suddenly calm down.
“Relax, guy,” one of them said to Rivera.
They called for paramedics and crowd control, as residents on the quiet street began to pour out of their houses.
“Go inside, please,” an officer said to a resident politely. “Go behind the building, please. No?”
He sighed. “All right.”
As the crowd grew larger, another officer shouted, “Get back! Get back! Stay back!”
Then Rivera’s sister approached, talking quickly as she took in the scene.
“This is my brother,” she said.
She was clearly trying to be calm, but she tripped over her words in her haste. “What seems to be the discrepancy?” she asked.
Officers tried to get her to leave, but she grew nearly hysterical.
“Can you please tell me? My brother’s on the floor bleeding.” she said.
An officer took her aside.
“Over here,” he said soothingly. “All right, come on.”
Public Safety Commissioner Wayne Bennett said he was willing to overlook the officers’ brief swearing.
“The reality is, when anybody’s under high-stress circumstances, there may be some language that’s objectionable,” he said. “But given the circumstances, that they have someone about to kill them, I’m not going to be too concerned about language, even though it is objectionable.”
He added that their actions were entirely correct. There was no way to know whether the gun was non-functional, he said, and they had to react as if they were about to be shot.
“It’s called self-preservation,” he said.
But Ward said the other officers should not have leaped out of their vehicles to join Fennell in shooting at Rivera.
He said they should only have fired if they were being threatened by the gunman.
“Two of them I’m sure were not,” he added. “The third officer, I don’t think he saw the weapon at all. He just joined in on the shooting.”
Many news organizations, including The Daily Gazette, filed for the video under the Freedom of Information Act, and were denied. Mayor Gary McCarthy overruled that denial this week as the city’s FOIA appeal officer.