At first glance, it appeared to be another case of cops shooting dead an unarmed black man with his hands raised. But a video, released Tuesday, complicates the claim made by some activists that the killing of Jerame Reid was some kind of summary execution.
The shooting of Reid by two Bridgeton, New Jersey police officers has sparked weeks of protests. The new video, which only gives a partial view of the shooting, is unlikely to quell the outrage—especially because it doesn’t address protesters’ complaints over conflicts of interest in the prosecutor’s office charged with leading the investigation.
The nighttime video of the shooting taken from the officer’s dashcam begins with a traffic stop and goes from routine to deadly in just over a minute. The footage was obtained by the South Jersey Times through an open-records request.
Just after the video switches on, police officer Braheme Days approaches Reid on the passenger side of a pulled over Jaguar.
“How you all doing?” Days asks peering into the car.
“Good, how you doing officer?” comes the reply from one of the vehicle’s two occupants, either Reid or the car’s driver, Leroy Tutt.
Less than 20 seconds later, Days is drawing his gun and telling Reid, “Don’t you fucking move.”
Day’s partner, officer Roger Worley, moves to the opposite side of the car with his gun drawn on Tutt who holds his hands up and out of the window from the driver seat.
“Get ’em out the car, Rog,” Days says to his partner. “We got a gun in this glove compartment.” Shortly after that, Days appears to reach into the vehicle and retrieve something from the glove compartment.
As Worley radios for backup, Days issues a series of expletive-laced threats and commands to Reid.
“You reach for something you’re going to be fucking dead,” Days warns. Someone in the car replies, “I got no reason to reach for nothing.” A moment later, Days says again, “Hey Jerome, you reach for something you’re going to be fucking dead.”
Then seconds later: “He’s reaching, he’s reaching.”
(It’s not clear if Days recognized Reid and mispronounced his first name calling him “Jerome” instead of Jerame. But Days was one of the officers involved in Reid’s arrest last year for drug possession and obstruction charges. Reid had also been arrested before, as a teenager, for shooting at police officers and spent over 12 years in prison.)
After what sounds like “I’m getting out of the car,” the passenger door opens and Reid stands up with his hands at his chest. Days appears to shoot first, followed by Worley, as Reid collapses to the ground.
Following the shooting, Days and Worley were placed on administrative leave.
The video, which shows not only the shooting but also the background leading up to it, still leaves unresolved questions that will be critical in a criminal investigation.
A “Use of Force Policy” (PDF) from the New Jersey Attorney General states, “a law-enforcement officer may use deadly force when the officer reasonably believes such action is immediately necessary to protect the officer or another person from imminent danger of death or serious bodily harm.”
Though the video appears to show officers finding a gun before Reid steps out of the car against their orders, it’s not clear what threat they believed they faced when they began shooting.
“The Bridgeton Police Department policies and procedures regarding the use of force mirror that of the New Jersey Attorney General’s guidelines on the use of force without deviation,” the department said in a statement released along with the video of Reid’s shooting.
The investigation into the shooting has had its own complications. The original lead prosecutor in the case, Cumberland County Prosecutor Jennifer Webb-McRae, recused herself from the inquiry because of her personal ties to officer Days. That put the investigation in the hands of Cumberland County First Assistant Prosecutor Harold Shapiro.
The move hasn’t satisfied some protesters like Walter Hudson, chairman and founder of the civil-rights group the National Awareness Alliance, who has been active in the protests after Reid’s death.
At a press conference in front of the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office on Wednesday, Hudson repeated a call for the investigation to be handled by the state attorney general.
“We are not asking, no, in fact were not asking; we’re demanding that prosecutor Webb-McRae recuse her entire staff from this investigation and give it to the attorney general’s office,” Hudson said to the group that gathered on Wednesday, according to NJ.com.
In October, Hudson was indicted for allegedly assaulting a police officer after an altercation at a youth basketball game in Penns Grove-Carneys Point, New Jersey, where he serves on the school board. Hudson has filed counter-charges stemming from that incident, which also led to a councilwoman’s indictment.
Hudson isn’t the only person calling for a special prosecutor in this case. NJ.com reports that Reid family attorney Conrad J. Benedetto sent a letter to the prosecutor’s office asking that it recuse itself from the investigation.
Only months ago, the prosecutor’s office’s former chief of detectives filed a whistleblower lawsuit alleging that conflicts of interest were marring investigations run by his former employer. The suit, which followed two earlier suits by ex-employers from 2013, brought all sorts of unwanted attention to the office. And that was before Jerame Reid was killed and the protests over his death began.