The fatal shooting of a man in a wheelchair by Wilmington police has some questioning the police’s use of force in the paralyzed man’s shooting death, with a unit in the state attorney general’s office investigating and the local NAACP calling for an independent investigation.
Police say Jeremy “Bam” McDole, 28, was shot Wednesday after police responded to a call of a man in a wheelchair with a self-inflicted wound.
On Thursday, Police Chief Bobby Cummings said McDole was armed and reaching for a weapon.
McDole’s family disputes that. His mother, Phyllis, said her son did not have a weapon and would never harm himself.
“This was murder,” she said. “He shot my son like he was roadkill.”
Cummings said officers responded to a 911 call Wednesday about a man with a self-inflicted gunshot wound who was armed.
When officers arrived, he said, they repeatedly told him to put down his weapon and raise his arms.
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McDole did not comply and reached for his waistband for a handgun, Cummings said. When McDole began to remove the gun, four officers opened fire. The chief said police found a .38 caliber gun at McDole’s side.
A cellphone video shows one officer pointing a shotgun or a rifle at McDole, screaming “drop the gun” and “hands up.” Three more officers, with handguns drawn, appear on the scene and scream at him to drop the gun. McDole fidgets, moving his legs with his hands, rubbing his knees with both hands, trying to raise himself out of the wheelchair.
Then he slides his hand up his thigh toward his waist and officers open fire. Several shots ring out. For a moment, the man in the wheelchair freezes, then falls sideways onto the ground. Motionless.
No gun is visible in the video, which was posted onYouTube.
The state Justice Department’s Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust is investigating the shooting, said spokesman Carl Kanefsky, which is policy any time a police officer fires a weapon that injures or kills someone.
Cummings would not release the names or race of the officers involved in the shooting, or if any had any prior encounters with McDole.
The four officers involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave.
“I’m sorry for the officers and family of Mr. McDole, as this encounter unfortunately ended with the loss of his life,” said Cummings. “I know that this incident could impact police and community relations, therefore, I will ensure a thorough and transparent investigation will be conducted.”
The city police department has been working to improve relations with its residents in the past year. Officers get sensitivity training and recruits are taught about cultural diversity.
Local activist Keith James, who helped plan local rallies after acts of police brutality across the country, said for once, he’s standing on the side of police.
James, who is president of Voices 4 the Voiceless and a member of the CitizenAdvisory Council for the Wilmington Police Department, believes the shooting was justified after watching cellphone video posted online and said officers were in a dangerous situation.
“From what I see, they handled it in a justified manor,” he said. “If he didn’t have a weapon, that would be a whole different story.”
At a vigil for McDole Thursday night, mourners spelled out “RIP BAM” in tea lights in front of his mother’s home. Many came to pay their respects to the man they believe was unjustly killed.
About 30 relatives and friends also gathered at the scene of the shooting Thursday morning to mourn McDole. Most were angry at police for what they say was an unjustified use of force.
“He wasn’t bothering anybody. He didn’t have a weapon or anything,” said Phyllis McDole. “He stood up and pulled his pants up and sat back down and put his hands on his lap and they opened fire on him.”
“They shot my son so much he fell out of the wheelchair,” she said breaking into tears. “He fell out the chair and on the ground. He wasn’t armed. He didn’t have a gun. He died by himself. He died alone.”
McDole said her son was a happy man who loved spending time with family, especially his nephew.
“I raised my son to be a good kid,” she said. “He wasn’t a troublemaker. Every day he came here at 12 o’clock and took his nephew to the store to get water ice. What am I supposed to tell his nephew tomorrow when he doesn’t come to take him to get a water ice?”
At a city news conference Thursday by Mayor Dennis P. Williams, she demanded answers about the investigation into her son’s death.
“This was an injustice,” she said.
State NAACP President Richard Smith also spoke, calling for an independent investigation from outside officials. He said police officers can’t be investigating police officers in the same city.
“We can’t treat poor folks the way we’ve been treating them,” he said. “They have a right to live. They have a right to breathe.”
McDole was paralyzed from the waist down after he was shot in the back about 10 years ago and was living at the Hillside Center nursing home said McDole’s great uncle, Vincent Smith.
“We want justice for my brother,” Ashley Morrison-Wright, 23, of Wilmington, said Thursday. “This isn’t right.”
Her brother spent a lot of time with family members, especially his grandparents, who lived near his home in Wilmington, she said.
“He was a very, very sweet man,” Morrison-Wright said. His sister said McDole never owned a gun.
The shooting and video elicited strong reaction in the community and on social media.
“The mayor’s office and police department is aware of the video footage,” city spokeswoman Alexandra Coppadge said, “and will continue to conduct a thorough investigation of the officer-involved shooting.”
Anthony Slaughter is a friend and mentor to McDole who said he met with him just a few days before his death.
“It is very disturbing — the footage,” he said. “He wasn’t doing anything in a violent motion. If there was a gun, it would have fallen to the ground when he fell. There was no gun.”
Slaughter and others said they don’t have faith that an investigation by the state will bring justice.
“In a situation like this, the police shouldn’t be investigating themselves,” Slaughter said.