Was This NYPD Shooting Of A BB Gun Toting Teen Justified?

Attorney’s for a Brooklyn, NY teen are claiming that a surveillance video shows that the officer shot the teen twice after he dropped a BB gun and raised his hands in surrender.

Keston Charles pointed a BB gun at a group of boys during a fight in December of  2013 when he was spotted by NYPD officers .Charles fled, the gun still in his hand, and was chased through the streets of Brooklyn. Officer Jonathan Rivera fired 16 shots in three different volleys during the chase, hitting Charles in the buttocks, side, and chest.

Rivera was not disciplined in the incident.

But does the video show what attorneys claim that it does?

Charles’ lawyers insist the teen was shot in the buttocks while fleeing from the cop on Dec. 9, 2013 — and twice more in the side and chest after he’d dropped the gun and was surrendering with his hands above his head.

“I put up my hands, they was still shooting,” Charles said in a sworn deposition.

But the city and Charles’ lawyers each argue that the video — exclusively obtained by the Daily News — proves their case.

Both sides are awaiting a decision from Manhattan Federal Judge Kevin Castel on whether the lawsuit filed by the teen’s family should be dismissed or put before a jury to decide whether there was excessive force used.

“The officer’s claim that this young man repeatedly took aim at him with an unloaded toy gun not only defies logic, but it is blatantly contradicted by the video,” lawyers David Shanies, Phil Smallman and Michael Colihan said in a statement.

“What happened to Tamir Rice was a tragedy, and both cases are painful reminders of the urgent need to stop unjustified shootings of young African-Americans.”

I’d instead argue that these two cases are reminders that teenagers need to stop pointing guns—real or fake—at people including police officers, but that’s not the central issue here.

Manhattan Federal Judge Kevin Castel is in a tough spot if the video shown by the New York Daily News really is the best quality footage he has to work with.

The security camera foot is not of high quality, contains no audio, and is only slightly better than stop-motion camera footage.

Charles is clearly running from police. An Officer later identified as Rivera does stop his foot pursuit to fire at a fleeing Charles. That’s not in dispute… nor is a clear sign that Officer Rivera was not authorized to use deadly force.

Tennessee v. Garner put limits on when officers could use deadly force against a fleeing suspect. Officers can only open fire when they believe that the suspect fleeing officers poses a lethal threat to officers or the public.

Keston Charles, running from police through the streets of Brooklyn with what officers believed to be a real gun still in his hand after seeing Charles point it at a group of boys during a fight, would reasonably seem to meet the definition of a threat justifying the first two volleys of shots. Attorneys David Shanies, Phil Smallman and Michael Colihan seem to be on very shaky legal ground when they assert Rivera was unjustified in shooting at Charles in those first two volleys.

That allowed, I’ve noted before and will no doubt note again that every bullet fired during an encounter has to be lawfully justified, and the case before Judge Castel allegedly hinges on the shots that struck Charles in the side and chest.

The attorneys for Charles say that those shots could only have hit him after he’d dropped the BB gun and had raised his arms in surrender.


Still frames from the cameras show that Charles raised and lowered his arms before raising them again before being taken into custody, and I could not tell from the footage when Rivera fired the shots that hit Charles, and whether those shots were fired when Charles had his hands up, or down, or if he had the BB gun in his hands when Rivera fired.

If Judge Castel has better quality video and other evidence to conclusively prove that Keston Charles was shot with clearly empty hands after he had surrendered, then yes, Officer Rivera probably broke department guidelines and the law. If that is the case, he should be held accountable. Every officer should be held accountable for their actions.

Officers are legally authorized to fire on fleeing suspects they reasonably deem to be a lethal threat, however, and can lawfully and morally shoot a suspect in the back if they think the suspect poses a threat to other officers or the public, or are simply attempting to improve their position and seeking tactical advantage.

Can Officer Rivera justify shooting all 16 shots he fired during the chase under those guidelines?

I don’t have enough evidence to know either way, and will be very interested to see not only what Judge Castel determines,but what evidence he cites.