The shooting of Deon Kay will probably not be an open and shut case

John wrote about this last night, and the police shooting of Deon Kay was obviously going to be a flashpoint given the current conditions on the streets. If you’re not up to speed on this case yet and missed his article, you should probably go back and read that first because I’ll be skipping past a couple of the established facts of the case and moving on to something that looks a bit odd.

Also, the New York Post put up a good summary of the moments leading up to the shooting and the chaos that followed. They also link to the full body camera footage from the officer who wound up shooting Kay.

The video shows police pull up to a parked vehicle where Kay and another man are sitting — before they both take off running.

Kay, wearing dark jeans and a white tank top, appears to be holding an object in his hand as he turns and faces the cop, who shoots him once in the chest. The teenager falls to the ground and is heard grunting, clutching his chest. Blood can be seen on the shirt.

“Shots fired,” the unidentified cop radios in.

That’s a rather sterile description of the action but the facts being presented are mostly accurate and not open to much dispute. The police have plenty of footage and a fairly solid case to make, but there’s one issue that I assure you will bog this down. First, let’s go back and watch the footage that the DC Metropolitan police released. (And cheers to them for doing it this quickly and trying to get in front of the situation.) The nagging issue I have with this footage and the description of what happened all boils down to a few critical seconds that you’ll see from time-stamp 1:27 through 1:31. Make sure you have the sound turned on and listen to the conversation between the cops as the search for the weapon that Kay throws unfolds. The usual warning about potentially disturbing, graphic footage applies.

So let’s get to the troubling part of this story. The initial contact, pursuit and subsequent shooting all seem beyond dispute. The suspects fled on foot immediately and there is no doubt that Kay had pulled a handgun when the officer caught up to him. Whether he was pulling it to open fire on the officer or intended to throw it all along is mostly immaterial. This was yet another of those crucial moments where a police officer has to make a split-second decision as to whether the suspect is about to fire on him or not. Guessing wrong would have cost him his life. That should be an easy call.

The problem comes with the alleged throwing of the weapon.I’d like to start with a few screen captures from the moment this allegedly took place. The video is very shaky so we don’t have much to go on, but there are some details revealed nonetheless. Here are the five key frames.(Click on each image for full-size picture.)

In the first frame, we see Kay in full stride. He is reaching his right hand behind his back, presumably where he is carrying the handgun. Note that to Kay’s right (the officer’s left) is the exit from the parking lot to the street. Off to our right, as not yet seen, is the wide grassy area between the buildings where the playground equipment is located. Also, please note the wrought iron fence to the left side of the frame.

In the second frame, while much of the action is blocked by the officer’s arm, Kay has brought his right arm from behind his back. This leads to the title image clearly showing Kay with the gun in his right hand. So far, so good.

Now we come to the critical third image at the 1:31 mark. This is a split-second before the officer fires. The gun has left Kay’s hand and is sailing through the air. I’ve placed a yellow circle around the weapon in case it’s not clear enough. Note that the gun is flying in the direction of the wrought iron fence on what appears to be a fairly flat trajectory with no loft to it.

Immediately after that, the officer fires and Kay goes down. If you’re following along on the video with this analysis, the officer then looks to his right, where we get our first glance at the large, grassy area I mentioned above. Do note that you can just see the edge of the paved area where Kay is laying on the left side of the frame. Extending down the slope you will see an electrical transformer housing of some sort. Beyond that (not yet visible behind the transformer) there is a low wall and another stretch of grass leading to the playground equipment. Then there is another expanse of grass before you would reach the next building in the complex.

Immediately following the shooting, the officer begins running around looking for Kay’s weapon. He is shouting out to other officers and even heard muttering “where is it!?” to himself. The reason is obvious. He knows that if he just shot this man and they don’t come up with his handgun he will be accused of making up a story and be crucified, so he’s desperate to find it for very good reasons. But the officer is seen running past the transformer, hopping down from the low wall, circling the playground equipment and going even further beyond in his search. Finally, at the 3:11 mark in the video, we hear him shout up to his fellow officers, “Hey! I got it!”

Here, in the fifth and final image, is the view from the officer’s body camera of where he has located the gun. He is looking back uphill toward the site of the shooting. Between his current position and the parking lot you see a sizable expanse of grass, the playground equipment, more grass, the low wall, the transformer, and an uphill grassy slope between the officer and the spot where Deon Kay lays dying. We can’t make an exact measurement without bringing in some expert photo-analysts, but that has to be easily one hundred yards. Probably more.

Now think back to those initial frames we looked at above. Kay was on one foot and off-balance when the gun left his hand. Even if he’d had the time to take an Olympic shot-putter’s stance, to throw the handgun all the way to where the officer supposedly found it would signal that this kid missed out on a top-ranked Major Baseball League career. And besides that, as already noted, the gun flew out of his hand toward the wrought iron fence and the street… the opposite direction from where the gun was eventually found.

So what does this mean? Did the cops dirty up the crime scene? Not necessarily. Given the neighborhood they were in, it’s not inconceivable that somebody else had ditched a handgun out in the grass there recently and that’s the one that the officer found. And if they go back and keep searching near the site of the shooting, they may still find Kay’s weapon. There is also zero doubt that he did, in fact, have a weapon and it was videotaped in his hand. So I don’t think this sink’s the officer’s defense entirely or even much at all. But the questions about this magically flying handgun will need to be answered.