As a news reporter, my rule of thumb is that the media shouldn’t take police accounts of incidents at face value. Law enforcement officers have every reason to lie just as the civilians they police do, and I’ve covered too many stories where video footage contradicted what officers said happened in their reports.
Last June, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officers shot and killed 25-year-old Jorge Gomez during a Black Lives Matter protest. The officers claimed that Gomez was shot after he pointed a rifle at them, but surveillance footage obtained by Rodolfo Gonzalez, the attorney representing Gomez’s family, appears to show Gomez running away from the police and tripping and falling just before he was shot.
“Jorge had been practicing his constitutional rights,” Gonzalez said during a press conference last week, Vice News reports. “He was walking these streets, right where we’re standing, protesting police brutality, protesting the wrongful killing of George Floyd. He took part in the BLM demonstration with guns on his person and a ballistic vest, all in compliance with Nevada’s open carry laws.”
Here’s what the cops said happened as reported by Vice:
Around 11 p.m. local time on June 1, Gomez began walking down Las Vegas Boulevard while carrying a legal handgun with a carbine conversion kit, which turns the weapon into a rifle. Police say Gomez was also carrying a handgun in his backpack, which violates Nevada’s open carry laws.
After police dispersed a crowd of hundreds protesting earlier in the night, Gomez walked past a group of officers standing at the federal courthouse in downtown Las Vegas. Police say they asked Gomez, who attorneys say was headed toward his parked car, to comply with orders to leave. After a brief exchange, one of the officers, who Gonzalez identified as Officer John Squeo, shot five non-lethal beanbag rounds.
As Gomez fled the non-lethal rounds, officers Ryan Fryman, Dan Emerton, Vernon Ferguson, and Andrew Locher, who were driving by, arrived on the scene for a separate call and exited their vehicles. Police say Gomez raised his gun toward the four officers who had just arrived, prompting them to shoot at the man 19 times. Gomez was then taken to the local hospital where he was pronounced dead.
The newly released video footage shows the vantage points of two nearby surveillance cameras. In one video taken from a courthouse surveillance camera, Gomez can be seen running from several police officers and then tripping, falling and getting back up just before he runs out of the frame and police continue to chase him down. In the second video—which doesn’t show the police officers—Gomez can be seen running, falling to the ground and lying motionless presumably after being shot. No rifle can be seen from either angle.
Yet, during a June 5 press conference, Assistant Sheriff Christopher Jones said that as the officers “exited their vehicles, Mr. Gomez raised that rifle in their direction,” and that four officers “engaged Mr. Gomez, firing several shots and striking him.”
“If any other person, other than a police officer did this, that person would be charged and criminally prosecuted for murder,” Gonzalez said during the press conference. “Police are not above the law. Police officers know the law and they’re trained not to use deadly force unless they pose an immediate threat. We don’t have that in this case.”
The Gomez family filed a lawsuit against the police department and the four officers involved in the fatal shooting and they recently amended the suit to include Squeo.
An LVMPD spokesperson told Vice that the video released by Gonzalez “was originally obtained by the LVMPD and is one piece of evidence that is being evaluated in the ongoing investigation.”
To be fair, both video angles are taken from far-away vantage points. It isn’t crystal-clear footage, but it’s certainly clear enough to doubt the official police account.
You can judge for yourself by viewing the footage below.