After a tense confrontation Friday, sheriff’s deputies responding to a domestic disturbance near San Antonio shot and killed a man seconds after he appeared to raise his hands in surrender.
Video recorded by a student named Michael Thomas and aired in part by a local ABC News affiliate shows a pair of deputies and a shirtless man moving about the front yard of a home in Bexar County, Texas. Thomas was too far away for his camera to pick up any of what was said between the three men. KSAT12 News decided to freeze the video just before the deputies fired two fatal shots.
Law enforcement officials say the deputies made multiple attempts to subdue the man using tasers and riot shields but were unsuccessful. The officials said deputies arrived on the scene to find a woman bleeding from her head and “holding a baby who appeared to possibly have been injured,” KSAT12 reports.
The video shows the three men striding back and forth in front of a home, the shirtless man occasionally disappearing from view behind a parked law enforcement vehicle. The three then stop in a loose triangle formation, and the shirtless man raises his hands above his head. At this point, the news station freezes the video, but two faint gunshots are audible in the video package it aired on Friday evening.
“Certainly what’s in the video is a cause for concern, but it’s important to let the investigation go through its course so that we can assure a thorough and complete review of all that occurred,” Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau said. Pamerleau did not release the name of the man killed, but said the two deputies have been placed on routine administrative leave while the shooting is investigated.
Bexar County deputies fatally shot 11 people between 2003 and 2013, according to a 2014 investigation by another San Antonio news station. A county deputy was indicted for murder in one of those shootings, in which an off-duty deputy fired eight shots and killed an unarmed man following a minor car accident.
In Friday’s video, the man killed appears to be white. The race of the officers is impossible to discern. Without clear audio of their interactions with the slain man, it’s also impossible to make an independent assessment of the character of the interaction between the cops and the man suspected of domestic assault.
In general, however, American law enforcement officials have a track record of escalating confrontations that become deadly. Such interactions are inherently fraught, according to some law enforcement veterans, because the public misunderstands how police view their role when responding to a 911 call — and because decades of War on Drugs policies have imbued the job of policing with a military mindset. In some killings, like that of Jack Lamar Robinson, police have responded to a 911 call and shot someone who likely needed medical or psychiatric attention. Out of 652 separate police killings in 2015, 173 involved a person who seemed in need of mental help, according to the Washington Post’s comprehensive effort to document deadly police shootings over the year.