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Newly released video of the September police shooting of Rueben Galindo shows the Charlotte man exiting his apartment with his hands raised above his head seconds before officers fatally shot him. Between three and four seconds appear to elapse from when Galindo appears at his doorway, Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers begin to shout orders for him to drop his weapon, and a series of gunshots ring out, the videos show. The 29-year-old then slumps to the ground outside his northeast Charlotte apartment. While police Chief Kerr Putney on Friday continued to defend his officer’s decisions to shoot Galindo, an national expert in police shootings who viewed the videos at the request of the Observer, called the footage “troubling,” and said that Galindo appeared to be trying to comply with two separate police orders – drop it and put the gun down – when he was shot.
“I would describe the video as troubling,” said Phil Stinson, a criminal justice professor at Bowling Green State University and a former law enforcement officer. “In and of itself, the video does not show that the officers are legally justified to shoot.” Putney told the Observer on Friday that videos never tell the whole story of what officers perceived at the time. Officers have limited options when facing a lethal threat, the chief said, and have to think about saving their own lives and the lives of other people. “I’m not going to second-guess how (officers) perceive a lethal threat,” he said. However, a Charlotte activist described the video of Galindo’s death as “horrific,” and called on city leaders to provide justice to the dead man’s family. “We have a man who had his hands up for a full four or five seconds before police shot him,” Hector Vaca, Charlotte director of the nonprofit Action NC, told the Observer. “It is obvious he was complying with directives from police. What we need now is justice. We need CMPD to take responsibility for their officers’ actions.”
Per department rules, the two officers who shot Galindo remain on administrative leave pending an internal investigation. They have been identified as Courtney Suggs and David Guerra. The shooting remains under investigation by Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office. In a statement Friday, an office spokeswoman said the videos were shown to Galindo’s wife and a family friend before they were released to the public. Prosecutors only received the full investigative case file this week, the statement said. Prosecutors said they hope to complete a review of the shooting within 90 days. The spokeswoman declined to answer Observer questions. Guerra’s attorney, George Laughrun of Charlotte, said Galindo posed a threat to his client and the other officers, and that he had pointed his gun in the officers’ direction. Asked if he thought Guerra had done anything wrong, Laughrun said, “Knowing what the law is, knowing what he was faced with, the answer is no, emphatically no.”
Earlier on the night of Sept. 6, Galindo had called 911 to say in Spanish that he had a gun and wanted to turn himself into police for an upcoming court date. He also said repeatedly that his gun was unloaded. “No tengo balas,” Galindo said. “I have no bullets.” But recordings of the 911 call and other communications reveal Galindo declining several dispatcher requests to put the weapon away before police arrive. Recordings of the calls also reveal that the dispatcher told responding officers that Galindo did not want to put the weapon down but that he maintained it was empty. Police also knew of Galindo’s arrest in April when he was accused of assault by pointing a gun. CMPD says Galindo had the weapon in his left hand when he exited the apartment, his arms raised skyward. The handgun is not clearly visible in a series of videos, which were released on Friday under a judge’s order. Putney later said the gun recovered at the scene was empty.
Galindo’s family has said he was killed unjustly and that he wanted to surrender the weapon to police. They held a vigil in his memory two days after he was killed. The family could not be immediately reached for further comment on Friday. On the 911 call, Galindo does not appear to say he wants to turn a gun in, but he does repeatedly talk about wanting to turn himself in. He said he believes “the police are following me.” Asked to put the gun down in a safe place during the 911 call, he said he would come out with his hands up. But he added that he didn’t have any bullets, making it unclear whether he understood the instructions to leave the gun behind.
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