CHESTER, S.C. — The mayor of Chester wants two of its police officers fired after newly released video from a fatal shooting last year appeared to show the department’s policy on body cameras was not followed.
The Chester police officers were cleared of state criminal charges in the shooting. But Chester’s mayor says she was bothered one officer didn’t turn on his body camera at all and the other turned his camera on only moments before shooting 26-year-old Ariane McCree.
McCree had been handcuffed on suspicion of shoplifting and ran from the store. Investigators say he got a gun and pointed it at officers when they fired back.
Chester’s police chief on Tuesday morning addressed a deadly shooting outside a local Walmart that took place last year.
Last November, officers shot Ariane McCree. He had been arrested for shoplifting. The SLED report says he assaulted an officer, ran out of the Walmart and got a gun from his car, managing to point the weapon at officers while in handcuffs.
Chief Eric Williams said Tuesday that the department wanted to answer any lingering questions and clear up any doubt about that shooting, even though both officers were cleared by the attorney general’s office.
Police set up a large video screen inside a conference room and the chief played body camera video from one of the two officers. The chief walked viewers through the entire shooting, stopping at a certain point to show screenshots of the video -- highlighting that McCree did in fact have a gun and pointed it at officers.
Enhanced bodycam screenshots show the gun in McCree’s hand. Police said officers fired when McCree ignored commands to drop the gun. In the footage, McCree is still holding the gun after he’s on the ground.
“The threat was direct," Williams said. "It was direct, and even in the midst of commands and gunfire, Mr. McCree kept walking and didn’t flinch.”
The most dramatic thing that happened at Tuesday’s news conference was when the mayor asked Williams to allow himself to be handcuffed in order to demonstrate how McCree could point a gun at his officer. The chief was not expecting that request but obliged.
The demonstration was done for complete transparency, city leaders said.
It was announced a few days ago that the U.S. Attorney’s Office was asked to look at the case and review it. The police chief said he welcomes the review and expects them to arrive at the same conclusion -- that his officers acted properly.
While the public has been able to watch the body camera footage from one of the officers, there has been no footage from the other officer. When Channel 9 asked the chief about that on Tuesday, he said the other officer was not wearing a camera and that the officer had been reprimanded. He did not elaborate.
In February, the McCree family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, police, and Walmart, alleging gross negligence, and excessive force. The chief saif Tuesday that in light of national events, it is critical to be transparent.
“Given the climate of what we’re going through right now, with Minnesota and other instances around the nation, I can understand the push, and I can understand the concern,” he said.
South Carolina Attorney General Alan Wilson said Saturday that he has asked the U.S. Attorney’s Office to review the fatal shooting of a man outside a Chester Walmart in November 2019.
The Chester Police Department released body camera video Friday that shows Ariane McCree being shot and killed by officers in the store parking lot.
“Our office studied the video evidence and reviewed witnesses’ statements that were in the report provided to us by SLED and concluded that Mr. McCree was pointing a gun at police, which put their lives and innocent bystanders in danger," Wilson said. “This led our office to the conclusion that the shooting was justified, but because of continued questions from his family and the community and in the interest of full transparency, we’re asking another outside agency to review the case and our findings.”
More than six months after police fatally shot McCree, some loved ones said the circumstances of his death still don’t make sense.
Though McCree was handcuffed at the time, investigators said the gun he had on him made him a threat.
“You got a young man in handcuffs behind his back. How can this person do all that you are claiming? It doesn't make sense. Doesn't add up at all,” said Melba Carter Faison, a family friend.
Civil rights leaders had been asking the local law enforcement agency to release the body camera footage.
"This family needs closure. This family needs truth,” said Claudette Gram, a cousin.
In November, officers tried to arrest McCree for shoplifting from the store. They said he fought with them and started running away. He eventually showed a gun during the chase.
In March, South Carolina’s attorney general said both officers involved and witnesses reported that McCree pointed the gun while handcuffed, and the officers fired at him in self-defense and in defense of others.
According to a letter released from the attorney general, investigators said while in handcuffs, McCree assaulted a security guard, ran away and allegedly went to his car to get a gun.
Radio dispatchers reported shots in the area but it’s unclear if it was McCree or responding officers.
In the body camera video, an officer can be seen walking towards McCree with a gun pointed at him. The footage shows McCree appear from behind a car and he appears to still be restrained.
The officer fires several shots before McCree falls to the ground. In the video, when the officer runs to McCree, he appears to pull a gun from McCree’s side. McCree can still be seen in handcuffs.
The video also shows officers tending to McCree’s wound before he was taken to the hospital, where he died.
McCree’s family said they still have questions.
“As a community, a small community, trust has been broken severely. We’re trying to remain hopeful and resilient but it’s a difficult thing, especially being a black man in this community, in this nation,” said friend Timothy Hughes.
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