A man wounded by police in a case that sparked protests around North Carolina’s capital city was raising a gun when he was shot, according to a preliminary investigative report, which comes as community activists press for increased police transparency and accountability.
The shooting of Javier Torres, 26, on March 10 ignited spontaneous demonstrations around Raleigh after social media rumors incorrectly suggested an unarmed 16-year-old was shot and killed. Hours after the shooting, news video showed crowds at the home of Raleigh Police Chief Cassandra Deck-Brown, demanding to see her. Outside the governor’s mansion, protesters burned a flag in the street.
Zainab Baloch, a member of the nonprofit Raleigh Police Accountability Community Taskforce, said that regardless of initial confusion about the age of the person shot, the protests reflected pent-up frustration surrounding recent officer-involved shootings in Raleigh, including two fatal shootings in the past year.
“The situation with the confusion around Javier’s shooting doesn’t change the fact that there are major racial discrepancies in policing in Raleigh, and our Black and Brown communities are being subjected to constant trauma and death due to the lack of accountability,” she said in response to a Twitter message.
Preliminary findings released by the Raleigh Police Department on March 17 said the events leading to the shooting began when a 911 caller told a dispatcher that one man in a group of eight was flashing a gun outside a Raleigh restaurant. Body camera video showed that when a responding officer approached Torres, he ran while carrying a pizza box.
The officer followed Torres, yelling at him to drop his weapon, according to the report, which said the officer saw Torres’ gun after he reached his right hand across his body.
A second responding officer spotted Torres and saw him raise the gun in his direction, at which point the officer fired his weapon and hit Torres in the abdomen, according to the report. A 9mm semi-automatic handgun was recovered.
Torres was hospitalized, and he’s expected to survive. Torres has been charged with altering a gun’s serial number, “going armed to the terror of the public” and resisting or obstructing officers. A police spokeswoman said Friday she doesn’t know if Torres has an attorney who can speak on his behalf.
The report also reiterated a sentiment previously expressed by the chief that protests were fed by “a false narrative” on social media. The report defended department transparency efforts, including the release of 911 and radio recordings, as well as supporting a court ruling to release the body camera footage the next day. The “Five Day Report” was released under a Raleigh policy to issue preliminary findings five business days after an officer-involved shooting.
North Carolina was a battleground for the biggest civil rights fights of the 20th century. Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins and other desegregation campaigns included black and white North Carolinians, whose efforts helped spur passage of federal civil rights legislation. More recently, the 2016 police shooting death of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte and the debate over removing Confederate monuments from public spaces across the state has thrust a new generation of activists onto the front lines.
In Raleigh, two other high-profile shootings involving the police department have happened in the past year, including a man fatally shot by an officer in January while carrying a BB gun. Police have said the man, Keith Dutree Collins, pointed the BB gun at an officer multiple times. Last April, Soheil Antonio Mojarrad, who authorities said was brandishing a knife and refused to drop it, was shot and killed by police in the same shopping center where the foot chase with Torres began.
In February, after years of pressure from advocates, the Raleigh City Council announced the establishment of a police advisory board. The seven-member panel is charged with reviewing police procedures, but does not have the subpoena or investigative powers that proponents sought originally.
“They gave us the semblance of a board with essentially no power,” Kerwin Pittman, an activist who livestreamed the protests after Torres’ shooting.
Manju Rajendran, another member of the PACT community group that’s separate from the advisory board, said the last five years of Black Lives Matter and efforts to increase police accountability in Raleigh are what prompted the sizable and multiracial response to the police shooting.
“We build trust over long swaths of time by listening, learning what moves people, keeping our promises, respecting each other through our differences, and showing up for each other when we are needed,” Rajendran said.
Gerald D. Givens Jr., president of the Raleigh-Apex NAACP, said the shooting reflects not only on Raleigh police, but on police across the country.
“The people here in Raleigh, they also felt the pain when Tamir Rice got shot, or Michael Brown or Philando Castile, and you could just go on and on,” Givens said. “They feel it, We’re seeing it.”