PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Police Department's rush to provide the public details on an officer-involved shooting was to blame for a false narrative that the man killed was reaching into a car for a gun, Commissioner Charles Ramsey said Thursday.
The department, Ramsey said, was attempting to satisfy the media's thirst for information on last December's shooting of Brandon Tate-Brown and the need for a thorough investigation to parse out the facts.
"The first story is one that usually does not have everything down 100 percent in terms of accuracy," Ramsey told reporters after speaking on policing at TEDxPhiladelphia's "And Justice For All" symposium.
"We're caught in the middle," he said. "The media's asking, 'what happened, what happened, what happened?' The people want to know. We give you what we have at that moment."
The city released surveillance videos and interviews transcripts Tuesday that showed Tate-Brown, 26, running around the back of the car, a few feet from the passenger side, when Officer Nicholas Carrelli fired.
Carrelli told investigators he feared Tate-Brown was running to the car to grab a gun wedged between the front passenger seat and center console.
He and his partner said Tate-Brown repeatedly disregarded their orders and broke free from their grasp several times to run back to his rental car after they pulled him over at about 2:45 a.m. on Dec. 14 because it didn't have headlights on.
"As statements are taken, as people begin to be interviewed, witnesses are found and so forth, sometimes there are slight variations," Ramsey said.
"One thing doesn't change: there was a gun in the car. The officer saw the gun. There was a struggle. There was an attempt to get back to the car. There were witness statements that confirmed that."
Carrelli and partner Heng Dang have been cleared of criminal wrongdoing — District Attorney Seth Williams repeated the original narrative when he made the announcement in March — and they have been returned to street patrols.
Tate-Brown's mother has filed a civil rights lawsuit against the city. Her lawyer, Brian Mildenberg, called the original story "a complete and utter lie."
A Justice Department team reviewing Philadelphia's nearly 400 officer-involved shootings since 2007, recommended in March that police hold a press conference within 72 hours of an incident to "share basic facts and circumstances" as confirmed by investigators.
The team also recommended the department update its website regularly, instead of quarterly, with detailed accounts of each police-involved shooting and reports generated from the resulting criminal and internal investigations.
Transcripts of interviews conducted in the hours after the Tate-Brown shooting showed a disparity in how witnesses viewed Tate-Brown's actions.
One witness said Carrelli fired as Tate-Brown was "going for the passenger side of the car" but that he never made it inside.
Another witness said Tate-Brown was shot after he "ran to the passenger side of the vehicle and reached for something inside the car."
Carrelli, talking to internal affairs investigators in March, said he opened fire as Tate-Brown ran toward the passenger side of the Dodge Charger, but before he reached inside.
"I wanted to discharge before I lost sight of him because I feared that he would be able to get the gun before I would be able to protect myself," Carrelli said, according to the transcripts.
Police shared some of the witness statements and surveillance videos showing the true sequence of events with Tate-Brown's family and community activists long before they were publicly disclosed Tuesday, Ramsey said.
But, Mildenberg said, the department never corrected the record.
"I respectfully demand that they make a formal statement that there was a false story and that it is now being formally corrected," he said.