I am perplexed by your statement in the Dec. 15 editorial, “Body cameras in focus” that “security video clearly shows that the man a Buffalo officer fatally shot in September was armed and holding on to a weapon… Less clear is whether the man turned toward police, putting them at risk.” You then state, “Nevertheless, it is reasonable to believe the officers had reason to fear for the safety of themselves and of others.”
Do you have the same video that I have? I have had it professionally enhanced, enlarged, slowed down and analyzed by four separate law enforcement officers. None of them concludes that anything about that video was “clear,” other than Rafael “Pito” Rivera running away from the officers. Their comments ranged from “that suspect was executed. It was cold-blooded murder” to “this is a questionable shoot at best.”
After a police officer notices they are under video surveillance (officer shines flashlight directly at the camera on the building), the officers huddled around Rivera’s body. Only then was a firearm “identified” as being present with only Pito’s prints. Ask any seasoned police officer if they’ve ever heard of a throw away gun being wiped of all prints and placed in a dead man’s hands so that only their prints would be found.
You cite the clear differences between the Nicholas H. Belsito case and the Rivera case, but you left out another important difference: Rivera has brown skin and is from the inner city and Belsito has white skin and is from the suburbs. As a civil rights lawyer who has been practicing for 30 years, I can tell you that makes a difference.
The only consideration is whether the police officer reasonably believed that he or someone was in imminent danger of serious physical injury or death, not that an undesirable character has now been eliminated, so all’s well that ends well.
A grand jury should decide whether charges should be brought.
Steven M. Cohen, Esq.