Video Of New Jersey Police Shooting Fuels Debate On Use Of Force
By Samantha Masunaga, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
Video of a fatal police shooting in Bridgeton, N.J., has led to protests, demands for an impartial investigation and a national debate over whether the officer was justified in firing his weapon.
The dash-cam video of the Dec. 30 traffic stop shows two officers stopping a motorist for allegedly rolling through a stop sign. The video, the subject of a public records request, was released by the Bridgeton Police Department on Tuesday.
The initial dialogue is casual, with Officer Braheme Days approaching the passenger side of the car. He asks the two occupants how they’re doing, introduces himself and explains the traffic violation.
Days asks the driver for his license. Then the front-seat passenger apparently reaches toward the glove compartment, and Days shouts: “Show me your hands! Don’t you … move!” and pulls out his weapon.
The second officer, Roger Worley, comes to the driver’s side of the car. Days tells his partner there’s a gun in the glove compartment.
Days repeatedly orders the passenger, Jerame Reid, 36, not to move. Days appears to try to prevent Reid from opening the door. But Reid opens the door and appears to get out with his hands up, and in doing so moves closer to Days.
Both officers open fire, killing Reid. At least six shots can be heard.
Days and Worley have been placed on administrative leave, according to a statement from the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating the shooting.
The video “confirmed that his (Reid’s) hands were up, and he was shot,” said Walter Hudson, chairman and founder of the National Awareness Alliance. He has led two protests over the shooting, and his organization is calling for the state attorney general to handle the case.
“We want to ensure a fair and impartial investigation,” Hudson said. “We’re not asking for any special favors. We’re asking for what is right.”
Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae has recused herself because she knows Days, said Harold Shapiro, first assistant prosecutor, who is handling the investigation.
Law enforcement and legal experts who watched the video said the histories of Reid and of the officers, as well as the officers’ training, all must be considered when determining what led up to the incident. Reid reportedly had a record and had spent time in prison.
Several critics have noted that Days at one point calls Reid by his first name. That comes after Days shouts to Worley that a gun is in the glove compartment.
Right then, Reid can be heard faintly speaking:
“I ain’t doing nothing,” Reid says. “I’m not reaching for nothing, bro. I ain’t got no reason to reach for nothing.”
Days replies, “Jerame, if you reach for something, you’re going to be … dead.”
Then Days screams, “He’s reaching, he’s reaching!” before one of the two men in the car says, “I’m getting out and getting on the ground” — despite Days’ repeated orders to not move. Reid opens the passenger door and emerges, and he is shot to death.
Richard Rivera, chairman of the civil rights committee at the Latino Leadership Alliance, an advocacy group for Latinos in New Jersey, said the casual conversation at the beginning, as well as Days’ use of Reid’s first name, “makes it very clear that he knows this individual.”
He also pointed to Days’ solo approach to the stopped car as a move that is “unheard of.”
“The whole reason they’re assigned to the area together is to protect each other’s safety,” Rivera, a former police officer, told the Los Angeles Times.
John DeCarlo, associate professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and coordinator of the police studies program, said body camera footage would have been better than the dash-cam video to determine whether the use of force was justified.
In any event, DeCarlo said, it’s too soon to know. Many facts remain to be disclosed, he said, such as the conversation between the officers and the dispatcher before the traffic stop.
The gun’s discovery escalated the incident, DeCarlo said.
“At this point, they are in a highly dangerous, life-or-death situation,” he said. “If the guy is in the passenger seat, he’s literally in arm’s reach of a firearm.”
Release of the video was somewhat controversial.
In a statement on Facebook, the Bridgeton Police Department said it “does not, as a routine, consider the posting of any such video as compassionate or professional.”
Without the open records request, the police statement said, the video would not have been released to the public “out of respect for the family of Jerame Reid, basic human dignity and to protect the constitutional rights of all those involved.”
Conrad Benedetto, lawyer for Reid’s estate, said in an email that Reid’s widow, Lawanda, had seen the video.
“It is a powerful video with great shock value,” he said in the email to the Los Angeles Times. “It was traumatic for Lawanda to see as vividly as she did what happened so violently to someone she loved.”
AFP Photo/Jim Watson