Screenshot: WAFB

A Louisana man who was facing charges of attempted murder after being accused of firing a weapon at a Baton Rouge, La., police officer will no longer be prosecuted on those charges after East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore III acknowledged on Tuesday that there was no solid evidence that he even had a weapon, let alone fired one.

That, however, does not mean that 21-year-old Raheem Howard is in the clear after Moore said that the investigation will continue, the Advocate reports.

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“At this point, I didn’t think there was sufficient evidence,” Moore said. “That doesn’t mean there will be no charges stemming from this case.”

What is known for sure, interestingly enough, is that Officer Yuseff Hamadeh fired his weapon at the 21-year-old during a chase after a traffic stop. Hamadeh claimed that he fired his weapon in response to Howard shooting first. Witnesses, however, say they only heard one shot.

Other interesting details? No video was captured from Hamadeh’s vehicle’s rear camera because it was facing down, although there was audio. Neither video nor audio was taken on Hamadeh’s body camera or his vehicle’s front dashboard camera because they were both turned off during the incident, according to Baton Rouge Police Chief Murphy Paul.

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Despite the lack of footage, Paul said that he intends to release what footage is available on Wednesday, including the audio from Hamadeh’s vehicle’s rear camera, as well as video that was taken by a bystander.

“We don’t believe that releasing it at this time will interfere [with the ongoing investigations],” Paul said Tuesday.

Howard, in the meantime, has been released from the $90,000 bail he was facing because of the charges for attempted first-degree murder and illegal use of a weapon but is still being detained in East Baton Rouge Parish Prison because of the bench warrants from earlier unrelated cases, the Advocate notes.

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Howard’s encounter with Hamadeh occurred a month ago, on Aug. 7. The officer stopped the young motorist’s car over a missing license plate. Howard fled, prompting Hamadeh to chase him. That’s when, according to Hamadeh, Howard turned and fired a shot at him, at which point he also fired his weapon. Police reports first indicated that both men fired at the same time.

Howard was arrested days later and acknowledged running away from the traffic stop but insisted he never had a weapon.

“He didn’t have it. There was not evidence. Because he didn’t have a gun, he didn’t fire a shot. And I think the suppression of the evidence by the cameras either malfunctioning or being willfully turned off only lends to that argument,” Howard’s attorney, Ronald Haley Jr. told WAFB.

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There is currently the case of the missing second shot. No shell casings aside from the one left by the officer’s weapon were found, no bullet holes were found, no gun has been found. Moore acknowledged that officers extensively searched backyards in the area, using metal detectors and came up with squat.

At this point, you might be wondering why then is an investigation still ongoing.

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Well, reasons, I guess.

According to Moore while there is no solid evidence that another shot had been fired, it is also not conclusive that there was not more than one shot fired.

“I cannot say there was or was not more than one shot fired,” Moore said. “Everyone else seems to indicate one shot was all they heard.”

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Nonetheless, Haley is pleased by Moore’s decision to drop charges, noting that if convicted, his client potentially faced up to 50 years in prison.

However, he also pointed out that the case has exposed “transparency problems” in the police department and its use of body cameras.

For example, according to the report, Hamadeh was also behind the fatal shooting of another man following another traffic stop back in June 2017. Police again claimed that Jordan Frazier pointed a weapon at officers, causing Hamadeh to fire. That incident, however, was also not captured on video.

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“It’s one thing to make a mistake on the job, it’s another thing to cover up in this manner,” Haley said. “What is the Police Department going to do? Is the DA or the attorney general going to look at criminal proceedings at the officer involved? … When you have a transparency problem, you can’t police yourself.”

In the meantime, the National Black Police Association standing behind Howard and expressing concern about the use of force against fleeing individuals and the proper use of body camera footage. The statement read in part:

A man running away from police may seem suspicious, but it is not against the law. In a world where black citizens are fearful of the outcome of encounters with police officers, it is not a far reach that running seems a viable option. Running should not end in potential harm to a citizen who, by all appearances, has only committed the crime of having a missing tag. Nor should it release the criminal justice system from being responsible for the fair treatment and due process of Mr. Howard.

We are hopeful, during the investigation of whether Ofcr. Hamadeh followed Baton Rouge police departmental guidelines, that the BRPD is willing to be fair, unbiased, balanced and thorough. Multiple stakeholders not only include the police community, but also Mr. Howard’s family and his community. It is the duty of law enforcement to ensure justice for all citizens—that would include Mr. Howard. The relationship between BRPD and the black community of Baton Rouge needs special attention, as the chasm of distrust created since the tragedy of the Alton Sterling incident widens.

Truth and transparency are cornerstones of leadership in policing. The NBPA is committed to ensuring equity for the community, as we work to enhance trust and legitimacy in policing. We will continue to monitor this situation closely, to ensure the fair and equitable administration of justice.

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