LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — The girlfriend of a black man fatally shot by white police officers responding to a domestic dispute in Kentucky said Tuesday that the officers gave the man no time to respond to their commands to drop his knife before opening fire.
Darnell T. Wicker, 57, was killed at a suburban Louisville apartment complex early Monday.
Two Louisville police officers were placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, police Chief Steve Conrad said.
The Louisville Metro Police Department released graphic body camera video Monday evening of the deadly encounter.
The video captures an officer speaking to two women about a domestic dispute. One woman tells the officer the man was armed with knives and a saw. Two more officers arrive and they approach the apartment.
The officers shout "drop it" several times.
Three seconds passed from the first shout to the first shot. Within one more second, at least eight shots ring out.
The camera then shows the man lying on the ground, with a saw on the pavement next to him.
Conrad acknowledged that the video raises questions and promised a thorough and transparent investigation.
"This investigation really has to be taken seriously because a lot of people are watching," said Christopher 2X, a local activist.
Wicker's longtime girlfriend, Anita Louise Jones, 53, offered tearful eyewitness accounts Tuesday of the seconds-long confrontation that ended in his death. She also questioned why officers left him lying on the pavement bleeding for more than eight minutes without rendering first aid before ambulances arrived.
The ordeal began early Monday, when she and her daughter arrived at her apartment, saw his bike and realized he'd forced his way inside. They called 911.
Jones asked Wicker to leave. She went back to her daughter's car and he came outside with the knife and saw. She told him again to leave and he went back inside. She said Wicker, deaf in one ear and hard of hearing in the other, had never been violent, just "hard-headed," and didn't think he meant her any harm.
Wicker later remerged from the apartment.
Jones said the first responding officer, Brian Smith, reacted calmly. But she alleged that the next two officers on scene rushed in with guns drawn, ordered Wicker to drop the knife and immediately opened fire.
"They just said, 'Drop your weapon,' pow, pow, pow, pow, just like that," Anita Jones said. "He had no chance to drop a weapon. He had no time to even drop the weapon. When they said drop your weapon, 'pow, pow, pow, pow,' that fast. Just exactly like that. He had no chance in the world."
She estimated Wicker was 8 to 10 feet away from the officers. Jones' son, Arthur Jones, who arrived shortly after the shooting, said the officers should have kept a safe distance and tried to resolve the situation peacefully.
"He's got knives," he said. "He cannot do any harm to anybody unless you get within his reach."
Conrad estimated at a press conference Monday evening that one officer appeared to have been between 5 and 7 feet away and a second was 7 to 10 feet away.
The man cannot be seen in the video before the shooting.
Just after the shots ring out, a witness in the background can be heard saying, "They told him to put it down and then he started swinging it back and forth."
The officers also alleged in the video that he started swinging the blade at them.
"It went from 0 to 60 fast, didn't it?" one officer asked another just after the shooting.
Jones' family questioned why the police officers failed to immediately render first aid to Wicker. Conrad said Monday the officers called for EMS and asked them to step up response at one point because the man was no longer breathing or alert.
When the medics arrived, one can be heard in the video asking the officers if the man had been breathing.
"Earlier, not anymore," one of the officers responds, about nine minutes after the shooting. "It's probably been about five minutes or so, I'd say. Maybe. I don't know."
Conrad told reporters that officers are trained to provide aid in most cases but each situation is unique. He said it will be determined through the investigation whether officers provided appropriate aid.
The two officers who fired their weapons — Taylor Banks, an office for just over a year, and Beau Gadegaard, who joined the force two years ago — have been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation.
Smith, an eight-year veteran of the department, did not fire his weapon and was not placed on leave.
Wicker's daughters, Danielle and Dominique, told The Courier-Journal that their father was an Army veteran who worked as a handyman. They praised Conrad's release of the body camera video but said their father "will never get his day in court."
"We don't know what was in the hearts and minds of those officers as they set out for work yesterday," they wrote in a statement to the newspaper. "We are sure this was not part of the plan. However the lack of intent does not make us less responsible for the outcomes of our actions."