Attorneys for the family of Derrick Kittling, a 45-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by a Louisiana Sheriff’s Deputy earlier this month, say they’ve seen bystander footage of the encounter that challenges the police’s official version of what happened.
According to Rapides Parish police in Alexandria, this began when an unnamed deputy pulled Kittling over for a traffic stop on Nov. 6. “During the course of the traffic stop, a physical confrontation occurred between the Deputy and Kittling during which Kittling gained control of the Deputy’s Taser,” the sheriff’s office said of the incident. “As the physical struggle ensued, the Deputy discharged his duty weapon striking Kittling. Kittling was transported to a local hospital for treatment, but ultimately succumbed to his injuries.”
But attorney Ron Haley, who is representing Kittling’s family alongside civil rights attorney Ben Crump, says two cell phone videos from a bystander clearly proves the officer would have had little reason to believe Kittling enough of a danger to him to result in a deadly shooting.
Haley is demanding police provide more information about the shooting, including the release of footage from the officer’s body camera. “Up to this point, we have not heard any information that my client had any type of contraband on him and we know that he was not armed,” Haley told VICE News. “And yet, it’s another routine traffic stop that somehow ends up with the loss of a life.”
The two bystander videos, shared with VICE News by Tony Brown, a community activist in Alexandria who’s been speaking to the press on behalf of Kittling’s family, were recorded by a nearby resident who watched as the yet-to-be-named deputy shot Kittling in the head.
As the public waits for state police and the Rapides Parish Sheriff’s Office to complete its initial investigation, which will include an examination of video captured by the deputy’s body camera, the cellphone videos offer a look at what happened the moment immediately before the shooting, as well as the deputy’s actions immediately afterward.
The first video is 12 seconds long and shows Kittling and the officer in the distance wrestling on the ground between a patrol vehicle and a pickup truck. Something that sounds like a taser can be heard at the start of the video, and Kittling appears to be standing above the cop. It is unclear if either man had been tagged by the taser’s prongs, but Haley said the fact that they both continue to wrestle as it goes off suggests neither man was affected.
As the person recording the video takes a step closer towards the two men, the camera loses sight of the scuffle. When the person recording seemingly steadies the camera again, Kittling appears to be on the ground with his head by the officer’s lower legs. Kittling can be seen putting a hand up as the officer appears to take aim with his gun. A shot is fired and Kittling stops moving.
“Damn man, should have saved him bro!” someone is heard saying in the video.
“He killed that man,” says the person seemingly recording the video.
A second, longer, video, filmed by the same person according to Haley, appears to have been recorded immediately following the shooting. As another bystander states in the video that Kittling didn’t have a gun, the deputy walks over to his vehicle and grabs his radio.
“Shots fired,” the deputy says. “Gunshot wound to the head.”
“Yeah, the police killed that man right there,” the person seemingly recording the video tells other bystanders. “He couldn’t handle that man, he was trying to tase him for no reason, pulling that man out the truck. That man had a family, man. You didn’t have to kill that man.”
Then, the deputy is seen walking to the back of his car where he retrieves a pair of gloves. Sirens are heard in the distance and more onlookers gather as the deputy appears to check for a pulse.
“[The deputy] tried to handle that man, that man started whooping his ass,” says the person seemingly recording the video. “I don’t even know that dude, but he always coming through here.”
The deputy appears to get on his radio, though no audio can be heard. The video ends there.
“The incident remains under investigation and when we have information that can be provided without jeopardizing the integrity of it, then we will certainly do so,” state police spokesperson Daniel Moreau told VICE News when asked for comment on the cell phone videos.
The sheriff’s office has disclosed few details about the entire encounter, but Haley believes the bystander details call the police statement into question.
“What’s most interesting to me about the video, is not what you can see, it is what you can hear,” Haley told VICE News. “It was alluded by the sheriff during [Sunday’s] press conference that the reason why the deputy said that he pulled out his gun and shot Mr. Derrick in the head was that Mr. Derrick went for his taser. A taser is not used for deadly force.”
And even if Kittling did reach for the officer’s taser, the attorneys say there was no reason to kill him, because if the taser had already been used, then Kittling couldn't have used it again to harm the officer.
“You can hear the taser being deployed,” Haley continued. “Which means the reason [the officer] felt deadly force needed to be used is because [Kittling] was reaching for what was essentially an unloaded weapon. Because if the taser had been deployed, [Kittling] could get the taser all he wants, but there’s nothing that can happen to the deputy.”
Haley also told VICE News they don’t understand why the body camera footage from the incident or the dash camera footage hasn’t been released, and why police have not provided a reason for the traffic stop.
“That is something that the family is keenly wanting to know, answers as it relates to that. What was the justification for the stop?” Haley said. “Our independent witnesses that have come forward said this is a residential neighborhood, that Kittling drives to the neighborhood often, he's from the community.”
Brown told VICE News that Kittling was a mechanic, father of three, and a frequent visitor to the Lower Third neighborhood where the traffic stop occurred. The neighborhood is where both Kittling’s mother, who passed away less than two months ago, and a close friend and fellow mechanic lived. The day Kittling was killed, he’d been visiting his friend to work on the motor of a vehicle together.
The case bears a striking resemblance to several other high-profile police shootings of unarmed Black men, including that of Patrick Lyoya in Grand Rapids, Michigan earlier this year and Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia. Haley also said it also reminds him of Louisiana’s own Alton Sterling, the Black man who was shot and killed by Baton Rouge police in 2016, after a 911 caller claimed he flashed a gun in his pocket.