The video posted above shows two Fresno police officers killing an unarmed man for no good reason, according to a lawyer and many people who have seen the lawyer’s narrated version.
However, when I watch Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer explain the same exact video, I come to an entirely different conclusion: The officers had every reason to fear for their lives and use deadly force.
How could the same footage lead to such opposing conclusions?
First, some context:
Back in September, there was a tragic shooting in the City of Fresno.
Freddy Centano, a 40-year-old man with a history of mental illness and drug abuse, was shot and killed by officers responding to a call about a man who had just threatened a woman with a handgun.
On March 24, 2016 attorneys representing the family held a news conference and released footage from the officer’s body-worn camera. They also provided their own narrative of the shooting.
The video is very graphic. Without the benefit of context, it appears to show an unprovoked shooting.
“I’ve been a civil rights attorney for 29 years, and I’ve never seen a police shooting this bad,” Centeno family attorney Humberto Guizar told the Fresno Bee.
I’ve shown the video above to a number of people. Every person cringed. Their impulse: The shooting was unjustified. Social media blew up; many called for the officers to be charged with murder.
The video, as released by the family attorneys, is an example of how two-dimensional body camera footage can be.
What you see is only one part of the story.
Dyer held his own news conference later the same day. Using the same video, he added critical information — most of which was omitted during the attorney’s news conference.
View portions of the chief’s news conference below and here:
What everyone missed while viewing the first video: As officers order him to the ground, the suspect removes what appears to be a handgun but turns out to be a water hose nozzle from his right front pocket and lifts it. When taken frame by frame, viewers see critical information not readily recognizable when first viewing the video.
Dyer said he watched the video at least 25 times — a benefit the officers who made a split-second decision didn’t have.
But why were the officers ordering him to go to the ground?
Officers were responding to a call from a woman who said a male subject with no shirt on had threatened her with a small handgun he was carrying in his pants pocket — an important detail omitted from the attorney’s version of events.
The responding officers do not have the benefit of 20/20 hindsight. They had no idea they were dealing with a mentally ill person.
As Dyer pointed out, the officers shot at the moment Centano starts to raise his hand.
A photo from Fresno PD shows the nozzle at the scene:
It is easy to see how an officer in a tense situation at that distance could easily conclude it was a handgun.
Jim Glennon, a police use of force expert, wrote in Calibre Press that the officers had 1.566 seconds to make a decision.
The attorneys in this case purposely misrepresented the video evidence to maximize their version of the truth.
To what end? Probably to improve their position in forcing the city to settle their civil case.
You have to give credit to Dyer for taking the bold step of immediately and forcefully responding to the misinformation.
I am troubled as I monitor social media and read thousands of comments where it seems few are interested in the chief’s response.
It is apparent the more sensationalized version of the shooting has a larger audience.
I can only conclude there is so much bias against the police these days that the truth no longer matters.
Joe is a retired Anaheim Police Department captain. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.