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LMPD body camera footage of Shawnee Park shooting leaves key questions unanswered

Police at Shawnee Park in Louisville
Police at Shawnee Park in Louisville

The Louisville Metro Police Department released more body camera footage last week of officers shooting Herbert E. Lee at Shawnee Park on July 10. But, as a result of one device turning off unexpectedly and a different officer’s hand obstructing his camera, the videos alone fail to corroborate some of the police's statements about this incident.

The shooting took place after the Dirt Bowl basketball tournament

According to police statements, officers approached Lee over outstanding warrants before he allegedly pulled out a gun and shot at officers, striking one in the chest. They said officers shot back, striking Lee. Shorter body camera footage released days after the shooting indicated Officer Nicholas Hollkamp picked up a gun after the shooting and before police started administering aid.

In an effort to gain a better understanding of the incident, WFPL News synced the body camera videos and audio to display multiple angles at the same time and highlight ongoing dialogue. The moments leading up to the shooting, the incident itself and Hollkamp allegedly picking up a gun that didn’t belong to police  all take place within the first four minutes of body camera footage. 

Lee now faces four state charges: attempted murder of a police officer, receiving a stolen firearm, possessing a gun as a convicted felon and fleeing arrest. Last week, a federal grand jury indicted Lee for illegally possessing a firearm.

How police responsed

Maria Haberfeld is a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City and chairs its Department of Law, Police Science and Criminal Justice Administration. She said possible preconceptions about Lee’s criminal record may have influenced officers’ response. 

“I understand that he was known to the police officers and had a warrant for domestic violence, which is a violent behavior. So they already were in this frame of mind that they are dealing with somebody who is violent,” Haberfeld said. “If we are relying on the accounts from the officers, in terms of going by the book, that's what they did.”

However, police standards of procedure regarding use of force are significantly flawed, Haberfeld said. She added officers’ actions may technically be sanctioned, but they’re not necessarily safe or sound.  

“I think officers should really undergo a very profound transformational training when it comes to use of deadly force,” Haberfeld said.  “You have to consider the larger repercussions of eliminating a given threat…potentially hurting innocent people.”

The shooting took place at a public park during a popular event that hundreds of people of all ages attended. Haberfeld reviewed body camera footage of the incident and said, while officers may have been following protocol, they could have considered safer approaches.

“Is it safer for the community that you are protecting to let a violent criminal escape with the weapon in terms of potential harm? Or is it better to let him go and apprehend him later?” Haberfeld said. “They could have apprehended him later. There were bystanders there. But, again, that being said, the training that they get today allows them to act the way they acted.”

The Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting recently examined LMPD’s standard operating procedures relating to warrant execution. It found that guidelines require officers to complete risk assessment paperwork that commanding officers must greenlight before they’re allowed to serve warrants inside buildings and places of residence. However, there were no directives regarding arrests in public settings. 

LMPD is internally investigating the incident for legal and policy violations. That's a change from the standard since 2020 of Kentucky State Police looking into shootings by officers. The city's new inspector general is also investigating.


What the footage shows

Two officers turned on their cameras minutes before 8 p.m, when police were making their way from different directions toward Lee, who was standing in a small group of people. When he noticed officers coming his way, Lee started toward an open field and police followed. Five officers — Richard Williams, Daniel Burnett, Joel Voelker, Nicholas Hollkamp and Joshua Pickering — ran after Lee. 

Officers began to draw their firearms about a minute and a half into the footage and directed Lee to “get down” and “drop” what is presumably a weapon, but cameras are too far away to make out what, if anything, Lee is carrying. Within seconds, Lee is crouched near the ground and dozens of rounds are fired and audible in the recordings. 

Police released edited body camera clips days before the longer footage they put out last week. In that, they included slowed-down video of Lee allegedly pointing a gun at officers, though the distance between the parties makes it difficult to see clear details. 

It’s unclear exactly how many rounds the five police officers fired at Lee. However, footage shows at least three officers went through two full magazines and reloaded their weapons multiple times. 

Hollkamp is the officer seen backing away from Lee as he lies on the ground, holding what is allegedly Lee’s weapon. His body camera shut off shortly after the shooting started and remained inactive for the following five minutes. As a result, there is no first-person video of Hollkamp picking up the weapon police say Lee used. Later, in Burnett’s footage, Hollkamp is captured saying his camera turned off when he laid on the ground during the shooting. 

After the shooting stopped, Pickering told a nearby officer he thought he’d been shot in his bullet-resistant vest. 

“I don't necessarily see [Lee] shooting [Pickering] from the footage,” said Haberfeld, the criminal justice professor. “I'm not challenging that he did because, further into the coverage, the officer is actually asked to show the bullet went into his bulletproof vest. So somebody has shot him, but I cannot see it from the camera.”

Between the three- to four-minute marks in the footage, a police cruiser drove slowly across the field as officers approached an injured Lee, who was lying on his back and holding his cell phone. It appeared to be in the middle of a call, according to footage from the nearest officer, Burnett, who was standing over Lee. Police continued shouting at Lee to drop his gun and one officer, Hollkamp, is heard in the background saying he’d secured Lee’s weapon. That moment is not captured visually by anyone’s body camera. 

The remaining footage documents officers attending to Lee’s wounds until EMTs arrive and managing crowds as tournament-goers demand answers about what happened. 

Unanswered questions

While the body camera footage sheds light on the timeline of the July 10 incident, it leaves some key details unanswered. For one, it doesn't definitively show who fired the first shot. 

It doesn’t show the moment Hollkamp allegedly retrieved what he said was Lee’s weapon. Burnett, the only other person whose camera would have had a clear view of that, obstructed his body camera’s line of sight several times with his hand. He did that as Hollkamp was picking up Lee’s alleged weapon, as well as throughout the 30-minute video. 

“Best practices are that first of all, you make sure that the body camera is properly positioned on your uniform, that you know that the lens is clear and clean, that you can actually record effectively whatever interactions you're going to record,” Haberfeld said.

LMPD declined a request for an interview, citing the department’s ongoing internal investigation of the shooting as the reason why.

The department’s standard operating procedures outline objectives for using body cameras, including:

  • to increase the safety of officers
  • to document and fact check statements and actions for both internal administrative requirements and legal preparation 
  • preserving officer interactions in an effort to increase public trust in police, transparency and counteract possible complaints 

LMPD’s SOP manual says body cameras should be used to record service calls, public encounters like arrests, stops and pursuits and to document procedures like searches, seizures and interviews. It also requires officers to activate cameras ahead of any interactions and before performing certain responsibilities, with the exception of “extremely rare situations,” where encounters are sudden or unanticipated.

“The whole idea behind body-worn cameras is to make police work more transparent and more accountable. So, if you're not making your officers understand why the cameras are there and how they should use it properly, you’re missing the entire investment,” Haberfeld said. 

LMPD did not answer questions about the department’s spending and training on body cameras in time for publication.