TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas police officers who fatally shot a black man earlier this year did not need to use deadly force, a lawyer for his family said Thursday, disputing authorities’ account of him reaching toward a gun in one of his pockets just before the officers fired.
Attorney Gillian Cassell-Stiga said in an interview that Dominique White’s family believes his constitutional rights were violated when the two Topeka officers shot him Sept. 28 near a park. She said police body camera footage showed that the 30-year-old White was not an immediate threat to the officers after they responded to a report of shots being fired in the area.
The top local prosecutor announced Wednesday that he did not plan to file criminal charges against the officers, calling their actions reasonable. Shawnee County District Attorney Mike Kagay said White tried to hide his gun and struggled with the officers before attempting to flee.
Kagay said in a seven-page legal analysis that “there is no doubt” from video evidence that White was reaching toward a gun after breaking away from the officers. He played police body camera footage during a news conference, and some news organizations, including The Topeka Capital-Journal, posted it online.
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But Cassell-Stiga, who viewed the same video and additional footage with White’s father on Dec. 15, said it documents that White was trying to flee police when he was shot. White’s death certificate said he died primarily from gunshots in the back.
“Did he move his arms? Yes,” she said. “But from what I observe of the video, Dominque White is clearly trying to run away, and he is not trying to, you know, grab a weapon, nor is he presenting an immediate threat to the officers.”
The Topeka Police Department’s initial statement also said White struggled with police and, after attempting to flee, reached for a pocket containing his gun.
Kagay, the city and the Police Department have all declined to release the names of the officers. The city’s contract with the local Fraternal Order of Police union bars it from releasing information about officers or their photographs to the media without a court order while a criminal or administrative investigation of them is occurring.
“The family does not believe this is the end of the story,” Cassell-Stiga said of Kagay’s decision not to file charges.
In footage from one officer’s body camera, the officer is directly behind White after White breaks away and runs from police. White’s arms move as he runs, but when the officer fires his gun, the view of White is blocked.
Footage from the second officer’s camera shows White starting to run from a side view. His left hand appears to move down in the area of one of his pockets, then up in an instant. He briefly looks back at the officers.
About six seconds pass from the time that White breaks away from the officers to when they stop shooting.
Police later found a gun in the pocket that White’s hand appeared to briefly be near in the video.
The Police Department launched its own internal investigation of the shooting after Kagay announced that he would not file charges, something interim Chief Bill Cochran said is standard. Cochran said the two officers have remained on paid administrative leave since the shooting.
Cochran said that the internal investigation could be completed by the end of next week, but the department does not publicly disclose personnel information, such as disciplinary actions. The city plans to have a public forum next month to discuss the shooting.
“The Topeka community as a whole has suffered a loss,” Cochran said. “The hopes are that we will have continued dialogue as we move forward.”
Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .