New Castle County released body camera footage Tuesday from a deadly police shooting earlier this year. The footage appears to contradict an earlier statement by County police.
Two New Castle County police officers shot and killed Lymond Moses in Wilmington’s Riverside neighborhood in January. Hours later, a police press release claimed Moses drove “at a high rate of speed directly at the officers.”
Moses was sleeping in his car when two officers woke him up and said they were looking for stolen vehicles. The body camera footage shows Moses growing distressed before driving away toward the end of the dead-end street. The officers follow in their cars, then stop and get out. After making a U-turn, Moses appears to drive around—not at—an officer, as the two officers open fire.
“It’s clear that Mr. Moses is simply trying to get away, that he goes out of his way to veer away from the officers,” said Emeka Igwe, an attorney for Moses’ family. “The officers clearly are not in imminent danger.”
County police say Moses was struck once during the gunfire. A third officer was present, but did not shoot.
The officers involved are on administrative leave, a County spokesperson said, and are still receiving pay.
New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer said in a statement Tuesday he released the footage in the public interest.
“We have invested a significant amount of your taxpayer dollars into body-worn cameras for all New Castle County Police Officers on patrol,” Meyer said. “We do so to add transparency, accountability and public trust to complex and sometimes controversial policing decisions.”
In an interview Wednesday, Meyer declined to comment on the facts of the case, citing pending investigations by the New Castle County Police Department and the state Department of Justice.
The County has not yet released the names of the officers involved, but Meyer indicated that could change.
“We're going to look at that,” he said. “We're changing policies pretty quickly to meet what we think are the 2021 public needs in terms of transparency and public trust. Right now, I don't see it as a compelling public need to have the names of the officers out there. But we're regularly looking at this and making sure we're responsive to public trust and transparency.”
New Castle County police have never before released body camera footage during a use of force investigation in the time Meyer has been in office. Meyer’s first term began in 2017, and County police started using body cameras the previous year.
The publication of the body camera footage followed several protests by advocates and Moses’ family, who saw the footage earlier and called for its public release.
Igwe says if the state does not bring criminal charges against the officers involved, he will call on the federal Department of Justice to do so.
The Delaware Department of Justice has not recommended charges against any police officer who killed a civilian in at least the last sixteen years, the period for which use of force investigations are available online.
The video released by the County, which shows body camera footage from all three officers, also includes a five-minute statement by Lt. Brian Faulkner of the New Castle County police public information office.
Faulkner says in the video the officers were “proactively searching” the neighborhood of Wilmington, following an increase in car thefts in the county. He says after the incident, Moses was found to be wanted on a violation of probation charge, and, in addition to marijuana, “multiple illegal narcotics were recovered.” County police declined to answer Delaware Public Media’s questions about the location, type and amount of these narcotics.
Igwe calls Faulkner’s statement “propaganda.”
“I thought it was certainly in poor taste, if not despicable, and that they chose to lessen the value of Mr. Moses’ life by painting him as an unsavory character, essentially, as a criminal, with the implication that his life was not really worth that much,” Igwe said. “He's just another dead criminal off the streets— that was the implication.”
The body camera footage shows that before Moses drove away, he and the officers discussed the fact that marijuana was visible in the car. The officers indicated that they did not care about the marijuana, but told Moses to get out of his car anyway.
Igwe says Moses’ rights had already been violated at that point.
“An officer, without probable cause, cannot just go to a vehicle and immediately open up the vehicle, which they did,” he said. “The discovery of the marijuana took place after Mr. Moses’ constitutional rights had already been violated.”
“From our perspective, it’s really irrelevant [why the officers asked Moses to get out of his car],” Igwe added. “The point of the case is that Mr. Moses was shot at the time when the officers were not objectively or subjectively in fear of their lives.”
The New Castle County police union is pushing back against the release of the footage.
Jonathon Yard, president of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5, said in a statement Tuesday that Meyer released the video against the advice of County Chief of Police Col. Vaughn Bond, Jr.
“While transparency and public trust are essential between the police department and the citizens we serve, choosing to release this video now undermines the credibility of any future legal proceedings that may arise from this incident,” Yard said. “The FOP wants what most people want—a fair and impartial investigation with any wrongful acts found to have occurred to be dealt with accordingly. Releasing this video now simply does not allow for that.”
Igwe disagrees, noting police are supposed to be public servants.
“The public has a right to see the body camera footage of the officers, and police departments have a responsibility to be transparent at all times,” he said in an email. “I applaud County Executive Matt Meyer for understanding that responsibility and authorizing the release of the video.”
Meyer said Wednesday he took into account a diversity of opinions when making his decision, but ultimately chose to do what he felt “was in the public interest.”
Meyer declined to comment on whether he thinks the body camera footage supports the initial characterization by County police.
“We certainly don't want to say anything or do anything that interferes with the substance of the investigation,” Meyer said. “We've certainly put the information out there, so that the public can make some judgment about how they feel about the police conduct.”