Javier Torres was running.
At first, the 26-year-old ran holding a pizza after police tried to stop him near New Bern Avenue last week. He later dropped the pizza and dashed through residential backyards to dodge the three officers chasing him.
Torres, holding a gun in his right hand, turned a corner through some trees and bushes and came face-to-face with an officer pointing a gun in his direction. In a split-second, as seen through the officer’s body camera, the gun flies from Torres’s hands as he raises his arms in the air while falling to the ground.
The officer has fired a shot. Torres goes down.
He’s on the ground, moaning. Officers approach him, guns pointed at his back as he lays on his stomach. They call for an ambulance.
Torres was shot in the abdomen and remains hospitalized, according to a five-day report released by Raleigh police on Tuesday. Police are continuing to investigate the incident internally, as is the State Bureau of Investigation.
The incident, which was at first widely reported on social media as a 16-year-old shot in the back while holding a pizza, ignited outrage last week. Hundreds gathered to protest first outside of Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown’s home, then outside Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin’s condo before heading downtown to Fayetteville Street, where they marched and chanted until 3:00 a.m.
On Wednesday morning, Deck-Brown condemned the protest, during which demonstrators tore down flags from the governor’s mansion and burned them.
“It should be noted that a false narrative quickly began to spread on social media based on misinformation at the scene of the incident,” the five-day report notes.
Deck-Brown released footage of the incident the following day. According to the five-day report, Officer Byrd shot Torres as turned a corner after he “saw Mr. Torres raise the gun in his direction.”
Kerwin Pittman, a local activist, says that account doesn’t square with what he sees in the video footage.
“Indeed, Mr. Torres has a firearm, yet upon slowing down the footage frame-by-frame, it is clear he had his hands—both of them, without a firearm in them—in the air before he was shot,” Pittman told the INDY.
Police point to a single still shot, the moment Torres appears from behind a tree, claiming the gun in his right hand was raised at the officer. But a fraction of a second later, the gun can be seen flying from Torres’s hand as he raises them above his head and falls to the ground.
Without audio—the body cam didn’t record audio during these crucial seconds—it is hard to tell the exact moment Torres was shot, whether it was before or after he dropped the gun and raised his hands.
Pittman also notes that the officer, knowing Torres was about to round the corner, had “the element of surprise.” Torres may not have seen the officer until that second.
He was running, and when people run, their arms move.
In that moment, Pittman says, Officer Byrd could have deployed non-deadly force such as a taser or mace.
“Why is it the first line of defense always to shoot when it comes to minorities, especially black people?” Pittman says. “We will continue to look into the injustice committed against Mr. Torres of why he was shot with his hands up and no weapon in them by RPD.”
Officer Byrd, has been placed on administrative duty pending the investigation, as is protocol.
Contact Raleigh news editor Leigh Tauss at email@example.com.
Support independent local journalism. Join the INDY Press Club to help us keep fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle.