The man, dressed all in black, shuffles from side to side on a sidewalk in North Baltimore. He wields a knife in each of his outstretched hands, and yells incoherently.
Two police officers have arrived in patrol cars and turned on their body cameras. As they close in, the devices record the number of times the officers tell the suspect to drop his knives. And they capture the moment officers shoot him.
Police say the sequence, recorded last week in Waverly, is the first body-camera footage in Baltimore to capture a police shooting.
Department officials released it Wednesday — a move they said was aimed at providing greater transparency amid tensions over the injuries and deaths of several black men, in Baltimore and nationwide, at the hands of police.
The 48-year-old man in the footage, who was shot multiple times during the confrontation, remains at an area hospital. Police say he is able to talk. They have not released his name or decided whether to charge him with a crime. They say his mental health needs to be evaluated.
The footage is open to multiple interpretations. But it shows, dramatically, an officer’s perspective of a volatile confrontation as it unfolds.
“It’s our responsibility, we believe very strongly, to identify critical incidents like this, especially when deadly force was used, and share it with the community,” Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis said. “We believe it’s making us better as an agency. We believe it’s improving police community relationships and accountability.”
A woman called 911 from her car Friday morning to report a man in the 3300 block of Greenmount Ave. waving knives, yelling at people and beating on a pole and the sidewalk.
Officers arrived to find the man, dressed in black from his bandanna to his leather jacket, pants and Adidas shoes, pacing and ranting outside a fried chicken carryout and the Boulevard Theater. He carried two green knives that had “MARINE” painted on the blades.
Five officers arrived. Two were equipped with body cameras.
The footage captures the scene from the level of the officers’ chests. Their hands and weapons rise into view. Police can be heard telling the man, “Sir, put your knives down” and “Drop the knives, sir.”
Police spokesman TJ Smith said the man was told 10 times to comply.
The man can be heard saying “I have one life to live, and I’m ready to give it.”
He moves sideways, back and forth, always facing the officers, with his armed hands outstretched at his sides.
As police move in, one of the officers with a body camera raises his Taser, warns the suspect he is about to fire, and then does.
About the same time, two gunshots ring out from at least one other officer. The shots miss the man. It is not clear whether the Taser strikes the man, but the blasts do nothing to stop the man. He continues to shuffle or dance back and forth between the former theater and a shuttered Liberty Tax office.
Officers again tell him to drop his knives. A few seconds later, they fire about five gunshots and the man falls to the sidewalk.
Blood begins to spread around his body. Officers cuff his hands and began administering resuscitation.
“Keep breathing, buddy,” an officer says repeatedly. An officer pushes down on his chest and asks repeatedly for a mask to blow into the man’s air passages.
“He’s still breathing, he’s still breathing, he’s not dead,” an officer says.
Police have identified the officers who shot the suspect as Gary Brown, who has been with the department for 16 years, and Supreme Jones, who has been with the department for two. Both are assigned to the Northern District police station.
They are on routine administrative leave while the Baltimore state’s attorney’s office investigates.
An internal administrative investigation will follow. The results are to be turned over to a police performance review board. The officers will be offered counseling.
Davis said the man attempted suicide months ago and was treated recently for a mental illness.
“How is someone who is apparently suffering from a mental health crisis out like that?” Davis asked. “Where along the line outside of law enforcement has the person been failed? Why is he out there at that time of morning, waving both knives in broad daylight, threatening folks?”
The footage verified the description Davis gave of the event during a news conference on Friday.
Davis said then that the officers went “step by step” during the situation to protect the public and themselves from the man.
“I’m so proud of these officers, the way they responded to the scene, the way that they attempted to de-escalate,” he said Friday. “Unfortunately, that didn’t work.”
But asked Wednesday whether officers should have fired their service weapons at the same time an officer fired a Taser — which is used as an alternative to more lethal force — Deputy Commissioner Jason Johnson said all aspects of the case, including police training and protocol, will be reviewed.
“The rest of it is something we need to learn through the investigation,” Johnson said. “The video is one element of the investigation.”
Police have equipped about 600 officers with cameras since May. The city has approved spending $11.6 million over five years to provide all 2,500 officers with cameras by 2018.
Police say the cameras allow the department to more accurately record what takes place during police shootings and other incidents. Researchers say they give the public more transparency when officers’ accounts are questioned, and also act as a reminder for officers to follow procedures and stay within the bounds of law.
Across the Baltimore region, police departments are testing or buying the cameras as police officers nationwide face more scrutiny in the wake of the high-profile shootings of unarmed black men.
Davis told City Council members at a Public Safety Committee meeting last week that overall complaints against officers have fallen 20 percent this year, from 729 last year to 584. He said complaints about officers using unnecessary force are down 38 percent, from 135 to 84.
Davis said 19 officers have been fired or are in the process of being fired this year after being found in violation of department policies. Lawsuits against the department for civil rights violations are at a five-year low, the commissioner said.
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