The city of Fayetteville in North Carolina along with the Cumberland County District Attorney Billy West have worked hard to bury the dashcam footage of officer Aaron Hunt shooting and killing 22-year-old Nijza Hagans.
The video from January 24 2013, leaked to The Intercept and embedded below, raises questions about West’s integrity and lack of medical attention provided after what appears to be a justified shooting.
In an article published on May 14, The Intercept gave us all a peek behind the curtain at the justice system’s needlessly secretive and, in West’s case, less than honest process for clearing an officer.
West’s report clearing Hunt was exposed by The Intercept to be full of holes. The report never mentions the dashcam video’s existence, and fails to note that Hagans died some distance away from his SUV while fleeing. West’s report simply omits any information that might raise doubt about Hunt’s actions.
The footage — which the city has withheld from public release but was provided to The Intercept by a source who requested anonymity — shows Officer Hunt shooting at Hagans a split-second after Hagans begins thrusting open his car door and while Hagans is still largely in his vehicle. Hunt shoots at Hagans, who is black, twice more as he exits the vehicle. The video then shows Hagans running away from Officer Hunt, who, instead of pursuing him, shoots at Hagans twice as he flees. Just after these final shots, Hagans stumbles to the ground where he died.
While many elements of the video corroborate the state’s outline of events, the circumstances surrounding the most disturbing moment in the footage — the last two shots — were wholly elided in District Attorney West’s report that cleared Hunt.
The video contains another wrinkle, making an accurate complete story even harder to put together, At 2:53 seconds into the full length video Hagans pushes open the car door. Hunt immediately fires three shots, and a dark object, about the right size and shape to be a gun, drops from Hagans’ hand. The official report says the gun was found under Hagans’ body.
The Intercept’s analysis of the video proved the “official” story isn’t trustworthy so we contacted the article’s author, Spencer Woodman, for his take on the object. Woodman wrote back that he thinks it could have been a gun or wallet, but that he wasn’t able to positively identify it.
If the object was the gun, then the West report’s description of Hagans being armed and dangerous as he ran away is called into question, but it would also make Hunt’s reflexive shooting as Hagans exited his SUV justified.
Ultimately the video supports finding the shooting justified. Either the object was the gun that Hagans pulled on Hunt in his attempted escape, or it wasn’t the gun and Hagans was armed as he fled.
There are still troubling aspects beyond the city’s transparency issues and West’s problematic report brought to light by the video.
Officers waited about three minutes before approaching Hagans after the shooting. Despite Hagans’ ultimately fatal injuries, the officers made no attempt to perform CPR or render any first aid. The officers then stood around Hagans dying or dead body for ten more minutes before an EMT walks leisurely onto the scene. This sort of disregard for life is inexcusable and is part of a lawsuit filed by Hagans’ family.
West’s report, unsurprisingly, fails to mention the lack of any attempt at medical intervention.
Video benefits everyone who behaves appropriately. In this case, the video protects Hunt from being branded a murderer, but it shows the ugliness of the officers who did nothing to try to save Hagans’ life.
The video’s release will hopefully lead to a change in policy regarding when officers must render aid. Hopefully the exposure of West’s incomplete report will erode his credibility in any other cases, and will prompt this department and others to release all footage of shootings by police.