Mayor Sylvester Turner on Thursday made good on his promise to release videos of the July 9 fatal police shooting of Houston man Alva Braziel.
At a midday news conference at City Hall, Turner said he hopes the videos will dispel rumors that Braziel was unarmed and had his arms raised when police shot him. But the two officer body camera videos included in the release crucially omit the brief interaction police had with Braziel before they shot him — raising even more questions about the incident, which has spurred protests across the city.
Editor's note: the videos are graphic and we urge viewers to use their discretion.
The nearly 19-minute clip, published on the Houston Police Department's YouTube page, includes three videos: convenience store surveillance footage that has been widely circulated and never-before-public body camera clips from the two officers who encountered Braziel.
Police say officers encountered Braziel, 38, around 12:40 a.m. as he stood in the center of Cullen Boulevard, holding a handgun. The officers shot Braziel multiple times after he refused commands and pointed the gun in their direction, Turner said.
As the mayor promised, the body camera footage shows an officer remove a revolver from Braziel's right hand as the man lies limp in the street.
In the moments after the shooting, the officers depicted in the video call for backup and an ambulance. One officer expresses worry for the pair's safety.
"Just make sure ain't nobody run up with no pistols or nothing," one officer says.
"Watch your back," says another.
The Braziel shooting took place a little more than 24 hours after a gunman ambushed and killed five Dallas police officers at a rally.
While the body camera videos corroborate Turner's assertion that Braziel was armed, they fail to address police claims that Braziel refused officers' commands or depict the behavior Braziel displayed toward police that prompted officers to shoot.
The surveillance footage from across the street captures the entire exchange, but is shot from a distance and does not include audio. In that clip, ten seconds elapse between the moment police stop their cruiser and Braziel crumples to the ground. Braziel appears to be standing about 15 feet away from the officers.
Houston Police Department spokesman Kese Smith declined to say why body camera clips omit the shooting itself. He said the department would release a statement Thursday afternoon.
UPDATE: 3:34 p.m. Houston Police Department Interim Chief Martha Montalvo said in a statement that the officers who encountered Braziel did not turn on their body cameras until after they shot Braziel. Though the department's body camera policy requires officers to begin recording before engaging in any law enforcement activity, such as trying to detain a suspect, Montalvo noted the rules allow an officer to delay a recording if he or she is in immediate danger.
The statement reads in full:
The body camera footage doesn’t capture the shooting of Mr. Braziel. The two officers viewed the threat to themselves and the public as immediate, stopped their patrol vehicle and exited the vehicle even before it was in park. Once the threat was contained, officers activated their cameras.
There is a provision (Item 10: Failure to Activate BWC) in our body camera general order (which mirrors state law) under Failure to Activate the Camera that states “there may be circumstances where it is immediately necessary for the officer to act in order to ensure his safety or the safety of others. In those situations, it may be impractical or unreasonable for the officer to activate their BWC before taking police action. In these instances, the officer shall activate his BWC as soon as it is safe to do so, to ensure that the remainder of the incident is properly recorded.
Determining whether the officers involved in the shooting acted appropriately, Montalvo said, is part of the active investigation into the incident.
UPDATE, 5:15 p.m.: An activist with the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter commended Turner for releasing the shooting videos, but said the clips raise more questions than they answer.
Ashton P. Woods said he is frustrated officers failed to turn on their body cameras prior to engaging Braziel and that their cruiser did not have a dashboard camera.
“There was enough time to turn on the cameras,” Woods said.
Woods demanded the Houston Police Department better train its officers in deescalation tactics, and believes a history of systematic racism in American law enforcement led the officers to shoot Braziel more quickly than a white suspect.
“The root cause is black men and women... are seen as dangerous, as aggressive, as animalistic,” Woods said. “Most people happen to react to people who are black or brown with more aggression, because whiteness is not seen that way.”
Woods said he does not believe police were justified in shooting Braziel.
The activist said he understood Turner's desire to protect Houston police officers after the deadly attacks on police in Dallas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but said he was dismayed public officials have not shown more remorse over Braziel's death.
Woods said Black Lives Matter opposes violence. While the alleged shooters in the Dallas and Baton Rouge police ambushes are black, Woods urged public officials against making broader assumptions.
“Not all black people look alike, and not all black people are out to kill the police,” Woods said.
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