Credit: Brett Villena

“Knife-wielding man shot by N. Carolina police officers dead.”

That was the headline the Associated Press ran on January 12, the day after a Raleigh police officer fired five shots at Daniel Turcios, killing him in front of his wife and two children.

That day, Raleigh police chief Estella Patterson told the press that several people called 911 following a rollover accident on Interstate 440 near New Bern Avenue. When officers arrived, Turcios, who had been driving, had a knife, and was walking with his seven-year-old son, according to the five-day report the Raleigh Police Department released last week. The report emphasizes that 911 callers characterized Turcios as being intoxicated. Turcios’s family disputes this, and no toxicology report has been released to confirm that Turcios was under the influence of any substances.

The knife, which advocates from Emancipate NC (a local nonprofit dedicated to dismantling structural racism) described as a pocketknife, was small enough that it wasn’t visible in a cell phone video taken by a witness.

The witness’s footage shows some of what happened: Five officers swarm the scene. Turcios hands off the child and walks away from the officers. Officer W.B. Tapscott tasers Turcios in the back, and he falls to the ground. Officers encircle Turcios, attempting to restrain him as he struggles to get up. Turcios appears to lunge toward one of the officers surrounding him. In seconds, Officer A.A. Smith pulls out his gun and shoots Turcios twice.

Five seconds later, Smith fired three more shots, police say.

Turcios’s wife, Rosa Jerez, remembers things differently. 

She stood nearby, yelling at officers, “Leave him alone! He’s not doing anything.”

Turcios had just been knocked unconscious by the car crash. He’d woken up disoriented and confused. Turcios didn’t speak English, so when the police arrived, he didn’t understand their commands.

He was walking away, his back turned, when an officer fired the taser.

“My children were yelling [at the police] and asking them to not kill him,” a sobbing Jerez told reporters at a press conference last week. “He was killed like a dog.”

Patterson, who was sworn in as police chief in August, has placed Officers Smith and Tapscott on administrative duty while the case is reviewed internally. She has also petitioned the courts to release the officers’ body-worn camera footage of the incident.

Then, it will be up to district attorney Lorrin Freeman’s discretion whether to pursue criminal charges against the officers.

Freeman had to make a similar call two years ago, when Tapscott fired 11 shots at Keith Collins, seven after he had already fallen to the ground. Freeman did not find any wrongdoing on Tapscott’s part in that killing.

Collins was found to have a BB gun on him, police said.

Freeman told the INDY she determines whether deadly force is justified based on the facts of the case.

“You can have a scenario where it’s clear the threat has ended, there is a delay, and there are shots, and that would be a different analysis than a quick volley of shots where we can look and say the threat probably ended there but that officer was not able to make that assessment,” Freeman told the INDY over coffee last week. “These things happen so fast, and I think that’s sometimes hard for the public.”

Turcios’s family held a viewing for him over two days at the R.M. Ferguson Funeral Home in Raleigh. On Sunday, the second day, Kerwin Pittman, an activist with Emancipate NC, went to pay his respects. Photos of Turcios with his family showed a vibrant, caring man.

“You could see the joy and the love that he had for his family,” Pittman said.

Turcios was the family breadwinner, who immigrated to North Carolina from El Savador for a better life, Jerez says. He coached his son’s soccer team and worked as a contractor. He would often come home from work with snacks or cook carne asada for the family.

“He was the best father in the world,” Jerez said. “This is a nightmare. I close my eyes and think that this is a dream.”

Emancipate NC is working to get back some of Turcios’s personal items, including his wallet and jewelry, from police to return to his family. A hearing for the petition to release the body camera footage of Turcios’s death is scheduled for February 2 in Wake County superior court.

Patterson, who has a background in internal affairs from her time with the Charlotte Police Department, has said she’s committed to increasing transparency in the department. Within her first few months, Patterson fired officer Omar Abdullah, a detective who was accused of framing 15 men in a scheme involving fake heroin.

“Hopefully this is a chance for the new chief to get it right and set a different precedent,” Pittman said. “I’m going to give her a chance.” 

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