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Experts weigh in on video evidence in shooting of Omari Cryer

An example of a police body worn camera.
Ryan Johnson/Creative Commons
An example of a police body worn camera.

Video footage of a deputy U.S. Marshal pursuing and shooting a man in the city’s West End was released Thursday night by the Louisville Metro Police Department. Police use-of-force experts who reviewed the video weren’t in agreement about whether it provided enough evidence to justify the marshal’s actions.

The footage briefly depicts the moments leading up to the shooting of 25-year-old Omari Cryer, as well as the minutes following the incident, when LMPD officers and federal agents attempted to render aid. The department is handling the investigation into the shooting at the request of the U.S. Marshals Service. 

A statement included at the start of the roughly two-minute video said LMPD chose to release the footage after completing “some initial interviews of key witnesses.” The video also contained a verbal statement from an unnamed LMPD representative.

“We encourage everyone to know this video is only one key piece of evidence, and the totality of every piece of evidence is to be considered without exception during all investigations,” the person can be heard saying in the video. 

The shooting occurred last Friday morning around 8:30 a.m. as a joint task force of LMPD and the U.S. Marshals Service attempted to serve an arrest warrant at an apartment in Louisville’s Chickasaw neighborhood, according to police. Cryer, who was wanted on domestic violence-related charges, attempted to flee through an alley near the 800 block of Sutcliffe Avenue.

The video begins after officers had already begun a foot pursuit. Cryer jumps over a waist-high chain link fence and rolls on the ground through foliage in the yard of a home. In slowed-down footage included at the end of LMPD’s video, it is possible to see a firearm in Cryer’s left hand. 

Just as the LMPD officer wearing the body camera begins to jump over the fence after Cryer, a second officer shouts twice, “Drop the gun.” The apparent sound of gunfire follows, but the shooter is not visible in the video. An officer then shouts, “Hands, hands, hands,” and asks Cryer if he is all right as he lies on the ground.

Multiple officers ask Cryer where he is shot and repeatedly say, “Omari, stay with us.” Officers cut off Cryer’s shirt and place pressure on a gunshot wound on his shoulder. The video ends shortly after officers say they believe only two shots were fired. According to LMPD officials, Cryer died before Emergency Medical Services arrived.

WFPL News was unsuccessful in reaching Cryer’s family for comment about the body camera footage.

'One angle only'

The video released by LMPD may or may not be conclusive in determining if the shooting was justified, according to different experts on the use of force by police. Their opinions were based solely on the video, as there is no other evidence publicly available.

Maria Haberfeld is a professor and chair of the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration at John Jay College in New York. After reviewing the footage, Haberfeld said she believes the deputy Marshal was legally justified in shooting Cryer.

“If [Cryer] had the gun but did not pull it out, if he kept running with the gun on himself, probably we wouldn’t be having this conversation,” she said. “The moment he pulls out the gun, it’s on him.”

Haberfeld, who teaches classes on ethics and use of force to NYPD officers, said the footage is typical of what would be shown to officers as an example of a justified shooting. She said, in general, a person does not need to point or brandish a weapon for an officer to use deadly force.

“It takes a split of a second to turn and discharge a weapon,” Haberfeld said. “The moment someone pulls out a gun in an interaction with police, even if you are running away, they should not be expecting to come out of that encounter safe and healthy.”

She added that the video does not provide conclusive evidence that Cryer was shot from the front, as police have claimed. Haberfeld noted that officers speaking in the video are confused about the source of Cryer’s blood, and there’s no clear image of the bullet wounds to determine where the shots entered or exited.

Sadiqa Reynolds, who heads the Louisville Urban League, said in a statement Friday morning she was mourning for Cryer’s family, as well as the woman he was accused of assaulting. Reynolds, who is also a lawyer and former Jefferson County District Court judge, said she thinks Cryer bears some responsibility for the outcome.

“It is hard to see so much violence in our community, and it is hard to watch the body camera footage and substitute our judgment for that of law enforcement on the scene,” she wrote in a Facebook post. “Mr. Cryer didn't have to die but it is impossible not to see the role he played in his own death.”

Meanwhile Keith Taylor, an adjunct assistant professor at John Jay College, was less convinced the footage was conclusive.

“One video does not an investigation make,” Taylor said. Taylor, who had a 23-year career in law enforcement, is Haberfeld’s colleague in the Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration.

Taylor said the video, “while compelling,” is not enough to make a determination if the shooting was justified.

“You have one angle only, so you're kind of limited,” Taylor said. “You're actually not even able to see the marshal, who’s the individual who ends up shooting the suspect.”

Taylor said it would be helpful to have more video and witness testimony to better understand the positioning of the officers and the suspect, as well as what happened before the incident. 

An early statement put out by LMPD said the shooting occurred after an “altercation” with Cryer, but the agency has provided no subsequent details about any such encounter. On Monday, Police Chief Erika Shields said the shooting happened after a foot pursuit that went over a fence, a description that matches the video released Thursday.

But Taylor said Cryer’s alleged criminal history, possession of a firearm and apparent lack of compliance “lends one to believe that the folks on this task force felt threatened by this individual.”

Representatives for LMPD did not respond to a list of questions Friday about how many officers were on the scene to serve the arrest warrant, how many body cameras were activated or if there is any footage of any altercation between officers and Cryer prior to the shooting.

A 2018 U.S. Marshals policy documents says agents can use deadly force “only when necessary, that is, when the officer has a reasonable belief that the subject of such force poses an imminent danger of death or serious physical injury to the officer or to another person.”

Jacob Ryan contributed to this story.

This story has been updated.

Roberto Roldan is the City Politics and Government Reporter for WFPL. Email Roberto at rroldan@lpm.org.

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