Body camera video released in Benton Harbor police-involved shooting
Early Wednesday afternoon, the Benton Harbor Department of Public Safety released police body camera video from the fatal shooting of Darius Wimberly, 28. You can watch it in the attached video player. Shots are first fired around the 45 second mark.
The video starts slowly, as officers are talking with a woman after a 911 call about a person being held at gunpoint. Officers found no evidence of this inside the home.
Part of the video has the audio redacted, for privacy because an officer says the date of birth of the woman. But about 45 seconds into the 66 second video, shots ring out and the officer whose body camera we're watching begins to run for cover. He draws his weapon, though he never shoots. One of the other officers fired all of the shots. His body cam video has not been released.
"It's dark [outside]," Director Dan McGinnis with Benton Harbor Public Safety said. "My guess is, the shooter practically couldn't see who, or what he was shooting at. I think our officers were just able to only see the muzzle flash and shoot in a direction."
Twenty-two shots were fired, seven by Wimberly and 15 by the officer.
"I would suspect with 15 shots," McGinnis said. "Probably, the officer missed the first volley of shots. Obviously, the shooter was able to shoot two more shots. I don't have the report in front of me. I'm just guessing. They potentially, probably hit him with the second volley of shots. We do know that he started behind some bushes and made his way into the street which probably made for a better target."
McGinnis says he watched the bodycam footage from all three cameras with the family of Wimberly.
"That family is remarkably strong," McGinnis said. "The mother and grandmother have my utmost respect. Quite frankly, when we watched the video, I was almost in tears. Me, having a child that age, imagining someone about my age having a child that age, losing that child. I was just really, really impressed by the strength of the family. That's why, again, we want to protect them, their privacy, their rights. Yes, they're our citizens. We stand for them. Again, we might not agree at the end of the day. The situation happened. We can't take it back. We can only move forward."
The video in its entirety is 66 seconds long, showing about 45 seconds before the first shots were fired and cutting off after the final shots. McGinnis says they will not be releasing any more video from this bodycam and will not be releasing any of the footage from the other two officers' bodycams out of respect for the family.
"In almost all body cameras footage, there's a lot of dead space," McGinnis said. "Outside of this [footage] right here, there is not much value after that. You'll see guys standing around. Tape is being done. There is a time when I arrive on the scene. Medic comes. People from Benton Township come. I don't know what interest that would be if two cars from Benton Township pulled up."
However, it's that lack of interesting video that is, itself, interesting to community members. The officers doing police work of investigating the scene properly and handling the situation correctly is exactly what community members are looking for in an effort for that transparency police are speaking about. So while the first video is a great start, it leaves the community with still more questions.
"Until the report is finalized, complete and reviewed by Mr. Sepic, our prosecutor, our position with respect to the family, we're not releasing that," McGinnis said. "For the purpose of transparency, I'm not going to believe that we aren't being transparent because honestly, I didn't have to give you anything. But what does that accomplish? It leaves more questions than answers. We thought it would be a mistake to not say anything, one. Delay in saying anything, two. Those are some of the things that feed into the mistrust and some of the questions. At the end of the day we can agree to disagree but really all we're trying to do is get out the facts as they are. We're not trying to slant them, we're not trying to put out a certain perspective."
Michigan State Police are in charge of the investigation and Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad is hoping the community will let the investigation play out and to have faith in the system.
"Patience and respecting the process is very important," Muhammad said. "As hard as it may be, allow for the course of justice to unravel and do its part."
Although police say the resident shot first, they're not sure he knew he was shooting at officers. According to Michigan and Indiana records, Wimberly had just one charge against him; a misdemeanor for liquor excluding traffic on March 9, 2013.
From Tuesday, Oct. 18
According to the Benton Harbor Dept. of Public Safety, four officers were dispatched to the 900 block of Pavone St. just after 2:15 a.m. on a report of a man holding another man at gunpoint inside a home.
When officers arrived, they say they approached the home with caution due to the nature of the call. When they knocked on the door, residents said no one had called police. Officials say the residents allowed the officers to look around, and when they didn’t find anything wrong, the officers left.
That’s when investigators say Wimberly began shooting at officers, and they ran for cover. One of the officers returned fire, hitting the gunman. He was taken to the hospital and pronounced dead.
"Officers felt as if they were being shot at; one officer described it as having a bullet whiz by his head," explained Benton Harbor Public Safety Director Dan McGinnis. "Pavone is very dark, especially at night, very, very dark, so it's quite possible that it was shooting at movement. We cannot say for sure that he was shooting at officers."
Police say they don't believe Wimberly was attempting to ambush police.
Investigators say they found two guns on Wimberly. An autopsy is being performed Tuesday morning in Grand Rapids.
At a Tuesday morning press conference, police revealed that the initial 911 call came from a person who said that a suspect was targeting someone in the home.
"The individual that showed up at the scene, the suspect if you will, was at that scene because he was targeting the individual at the residence," said Michigan State Police Lt. Chuck Christenson.
No officers were hurt in the exchange. Three of the four officers were wearing body cameras at the time of the shooting, and that video will be released during the course of the investigation.
The officer who shot the suspect is expected to be named soon. He is on paid administrative leave pending the investigation, which is now being handled by Michigan State Police.