Witness provides new details in deadly Richmond police shooting
on September 16, 2014
The unarmed man shot and killed during a scuffle with a Richmond police officer days ago was face down on the ground and nearly handcuffed before breaking free from the officer’s control and coming toward him, according to a store clerk who said he witnessed the incident.
Richard “Pedie” Perez III, 24, died after a Richmond Police officer shot him three times at about 12:15 a.m. Sunday outside of Uncle Sam’s Liquor Store at 3322 Cutting Blvd. Police have said Perez was drunk, fought with the officer, tried to take his gun and came at him again, forcing the officer to shoot.
But the store clerk, potentially a key witness in the investigation into the first deadly shooting by a Richmond police officer in more than seven years, said the fatal shooting may have been averted if the officer was successful in cuffing Perez moments before.
“I saw him on the floor and the police tried to lock him up. [The officer] couldn’t lock his hands,” said Mohammad Delik, the clerk working that night. Video footage from inside the store shows Delik watching the shooting from the shop’s doorway.
Police have not explicitly contradicted Delik’s account that before the shooting Perez was on his stomach on the pavement as the officer tried unsuccessfully to handcuff him.
“The officer did not have Mr. Perez handcuffed. Mr. Perez was actively resisting while the officer was trying to take him into custody,” Richmond Police Chief Chris Magnus said, adding that Perez attempted to grab the officer’s gun.
Exactly what prompted the officer’s use of lethal force and whether it was justified will be determined by an independent investigation currently underway at the Contra Costa District Attorney’s office. The investigation may take several months, Magnus said. The department is also conducting its own internal inquiry.
“During any critical incident, different people see or perceive things differently,” Magnus said in a statement Tuesday evening. “The job of a good investigator is to evaluate all the evidence, assess the credibility of the witnesses, and reach the best possible conclusions.”
Perez was friendly with staff at Uncle Sam’s, where he had been a regular for years. He stopped in at the shop at least four times on the day he died, Delik said. On his last visit, Perez was visibly intoxicated and took a bottle of Hennessy cognac without paying for it, Delik said.
When Delik spotted a policeman patrolling alone on foot, he said he flagged the officer and asked him to intervene.
The situation quickly escalated.
The officer instructed Perez to sit down and show identification, Delik said. Perez then attempted to flee and was grabbed and held to the ground by the officer. Delik said he heard the officer say “Don’t try to fight me,” as he attempted to restrain and handcuff Perez.
But Perez wrestled free from the officer’s hold, then moved toward him, at which point the officer drew his gun and shot Perez three times in the front of the torso, Delik said. Perez died on the scene.
In an official statement released Sunday afternoon, Magnus said an aggressive Perez attacked the officer and attempted to take the gun from his holster.
“The officer and the suspect fell to the ground as they grappled with each other,” Magnus said. “The suspect grabbed and held on to one of the officer’s hands, while using his other hand to simultaneously go for the officer’s gun.”
Delik said he did not see Perez reach for the officer’s gun. The officer did not use his baton or any other non-lethal weapons, Delik said.
Magnus confirmed that batons, tasers, and pepper spray are standard issue for all Richmond police, but didn’t know whether the officer carried or used any of the three on Perez.
“We do have indications that the officer took other steps to try to get the individual into compliance in terms of verbal commands and trying to physically engage with him,” Magnus said. “Exactly why and when he chose to do what is really a key part of the investigation.”
In the days since the shooting, Perez’s friends and family have gathered at vigils in front of Uncle Sam’s and in protest at police headquarters. They question why Perez was shot.
In response to Magnus’ statement on the Richmond Police Department Facebook page, Perez’s aunt, Rhonda Reeder Perez wrote, “My Nephew was a kind, loving and generous man. He WAS NOT dangerous… He bought food for those that were hungry, money for those that were broke, love for those who were unloved, and a laugh for those who needed to be cheered up.”
Magnus, who cut short a vacation to return home and deal with the aftermath of the shooting, has said the officer is Latino, bilingual and a six-year veteran of the department. The officer has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, a standard protocol for officer-involved shootings.
According to Magnus, officers routinely patrol alone and don’t usually call for cover unless a crime is in progress. As part of the community-based policing model, officers are also expected to proactively check on businesses that have had prior run-ins with the law like Uncle Sam’s. The store was closed by police in February for several violations and “continues to be a problem location that has a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhood,” Magnus said in a statement.
Sunday’s incident was the first fatal officer-involved shooting in Richmond since 2007. Prior to Sunday’s deadly shooting, Magnus credited the department’s stellar use of force record to adequate staffing, quick backup response, extensive firearm training and role-playing exercises to sharpen decision-making and reduce the incidence of deadly force.
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