California police fatally shot 23-year-old Black man as he ran away, video shows

Police in San Bernardino, California, fatally shot a 23-year-old man on Saturday as he was fleeing, according to surveillance footage that shows an officer firing just seconds after arriving in an unmarked vehicle.

Security camera footage from a parking lot in San Bernardino, a city an hour east of Los Angeles, shows two officers driving up in an unmarked car at about 8pm as Robert Adams stood in the lot. As soon as two officers exited the car, Adams turned away from them and ran. It appeared that roughly five seconds after they had stepped out of the car, one of the officers fired at Adams from a distance, seeming to hit him and causing him to collapse to the ground.

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The video of the killing went viral on Monday and sparked national outrage, with civil rights lawyer Ben Crump calling it a “horrific execution” and Adams’s family urging authorities to file murder charges against the officer, who has not been identified. The killing comes weeks after police in Akron, Ohio, fired more than 60 rounds at Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man who was also fleeing, sparking widespread protests.

The San Bernardino police department said in a statement that the two officers were with a “specialized investigations unit” and were “conducting surveillance in an unmarked vehicle” after “receiving information that a black male armed with a gun was in the parking lot”. The surveillance footage does not have audio, but the department claimed that the officers gave verbal commands after they exited the car and that Adams had a gun in his hand as he fled.

Adams’s family said he probably did not know they were officers when they arrived. His mother, Tamika Deavila King, told the Guardian on Tuesday night: “A part of me is gone now, and I can’t ever get it back. I want criminal prosecution and I want justice and I never want another mother to have to bear this pain. It hurts so bad.”

Audwin King, Adams’s stepfather, told the Guardian: “We want full justice for our son. We want cops like that off of the force. Police are supposed to protect and serve, not hunt and kill, and we can see that is what that man did. My stepson didn’t have a chance to defend himself, and the officer jumped out with the intention to gun him down like a dog in the streets.”

Jennifer Kohrell, a spokesperson for the police department, said Adams did not fire at the officers.

The video also does not show him pointing a weapon at the officers and only shows him running in the opposite direction. She said Adams, who is Black, “fit the description” of a tip police were investigating, but she declined to say whether police confirmed he was the person they were looking for. She said the two officers were not on leave.

The department released additional footage on Tuesday night. A brief body-camera clip shows the officer exiting the car with his gun drawn and pointed at Adams, with the officer chasing after him before quickly firing, but the audio doesn’t start until after the shooting. The video also showed that as Adams lay on the ground crying in pain, an officer stood above and kept his weapon pointed at him.

The police chief, Darren Goodman, said upon the release of the video that “the location has a history of criminal activity” and cited Adams’s alleged past run-ins with the law. But Kohrell, the spokesperson, confirmed that the officers had no knowledge of who he was or his background when they approached and when the officer fired. Goodman further claimed that the officer fired when he was “fearing that bystanders’ or the officers’ lives were in danger”, but the body-cam footage does not show Adams pointing any weapon, nor does it show any bystanders in view, except one person who appeared to be talking with Adams before police arrived.

Adams was taken to a hospital after the shooting, where he later died.

Crump, the lawyer who represented George Floyd’s family, said on Tuesday afternoon that he and a local California attorney, Bradley Gage, were representing Adams’s family.

“It is unbelievable that another Black family has to bury their child due to police shooting first and asking questions later,” the two lawyers said in a statement. “Robert appeared to be simply walking around the parking lot when officers exited their unmarked vehicle firing their weapons at him immediately. Robert never even had a chance to explain himself.”

Gage criticized the police department for attacking Adams’s character: “Police put out a false narrative and crucify a person who doesn’t deserve it because they are trying to cover up what they did … It’s just atrocious and disgusting. If Robert was white, he would not be dead today. He had his life ahead of him.”

Adams graduated high school with honors and won numerous awards and was planning to go to college for business management, his mother said. He had dreams of running his own store, she added. “I’m going to miss his smile more than anything. I’m going to miss him coming to me and comforting me … He was a handsome gentleman, he was confident and he was a leader.”

The victim’s father, also named Robert Adams, said the officer should step down: “That video is viral and the whole world has seen it, and it’s time for that officer to resign. My son was not a gang member. They killed an innocent kid. He was just enjoyable and funny to be around and everyone loved him.”

A local councilman, Ben Reynoso, said he believed the officer should face criminal charges based on the video.

“I’ve been grappling with it all day. To watch him flee and get killed, there’s no justification. It was like an execution,” he said, adding that he questioned why police showed up in an unmarked car. “How often do we deploy these tactics? And to what end? If this could happen one time, is it happening somewhere else in our city right now?”

Andres Garcia, a local community organizer who until recently was living a block away from the lot where the killing occurred, said the police’s actions on the video reminded him of a gang attack: “I’m very familiar with gang violence and that’s what it looked like to me, like a gang-style hit and execution.” He said there has been recent gun violence in the area, and it was not surprising that someone would be scared and fleeing when two people slowly pull up in an unmarked car and then get out with guns drawn.

Reynoso noted that there was a long history of racial profiling at the San Bernardino police department. In April, a state audit found that officers in the department had engaged in “biased conduct” and cited a case of police using excessive force against a Latina woman who was involved in a car accident.

“There’s not a lot of trust between police and the community here,” Reynoso said.

Police in the US continue to kill more than three people a day, and have killed 633 people so far in 2022, according to Mapping Police Violence, a non-profit research group. That marks a slight increase from the killings at this point last year, which was one of the deadliest years for police violence on record.