The mother of a man her attorneys said was shot in the back and side multiple times by a Buffalo police officer while running away has notified the city that she plans to file a wrongful death lawsuit over the fatal shooting.
Rafael Rivera, 32, was shot around 3:14 a.m. on Sept. 12 when police responded to “some incident” on Plymouth Avenue between Massachusetts Avenue and Rhode Island Street, according to Steven M. Cohen, the lawyer for Denice Rivera of Niagara Falls.
Surveillance video from the building of a nearby community organization shows that Rivera, who was wearing a hoodie that had a pocket in the front, was running away from police into a “well-lighted parking lot covered by the security cameras,” Cohen said.
Something fell out of Rivera’s pocket, Cohen continued, but it’s not clear what it was.
“But there’s no question he wasn’t pointing a firearm at anybody,” at the time he was shot, Cohen said. “He wasn’t pointing anything at anybody. He was running away. He had fallen and gotten up and continued to try to run away and was shot in the back and side by the same officer.”
"The city’s position is that he was carrying a firearm, and he was a threat to society,” Cohen said. "But it's clear there was no imminent danger."
“The city does not comment on pending or potential litigation,” Buffalo Police spokesman Michael J. DeGeorge told The Buffalo News on Monday evening. “And it remains an active investigation.”
The notice of claim does not “set forth a monetary amount,” Cohen said. “But it gives the city and police an opportunity to settle this. Hopefully, a settlement would include a statement of a change in policy” as related to negligence and reckless conduct on the part of the police in terms of their policies and procedures, according to Cohen.
The family has not been allowed to view the body, Cohen said.
“There was a funeral,” Cohen explained, “but the family was not permitted to see the body. That was disturbing. We wanted to see if he was shot in the back and side, as we were told, or if it was in front.”
Cohen said viewing of the body was prohibited until after the results of an autopsy were reported.
“They did the autopsy within 24 hours,” he noted, “but they haven’t released it yet."
Cohen said: "At this point, the family is far more interested in answers than anything else.”
News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to this report.