Body camera video from a D.C. police officer who fatally shot a man during a domestic dispute on Christmas Day in Northeast Washington shows the man clutching a knife in his right hand as he advances toward the officer.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) ordered the public release of the videos from two responding officers’ cameras after relatives of the man who was killed questioned the police account and disputed that the victim, Gerald Hall, 29, had been armed.
The confrontation at a back entrance of a house in the 3200 block of Walnut Street NE took seconds. D.C. officials froze frames of the footage to show an 8-inch knife, visible at two different points during the incident, in the man’s right hand.
“To me it’s very clear Mr. Hall has a knife,” said Kevin Donahue, the deputy mayor for public safety who showed the video to reporters Wednesday. “It’s very clear it is being held in an aggressive manner. It’s very clear that the officer who arrived on scene states in a loud voice three times for that individual to drop the knife.”
Donahue said that “this is a case that shows why we have body cameras on officers, to be able to address questions that are raised in good conscience by members of the public when a police shooting happens. . . . The officer had to make a decision in less than a second.”
But Hall’s mother, Kita McCain, said she watched the video and did not see a knife. “The police were nowhere near him to get stabbed,” she said. “They were on the steps.” Hall’s sister, Riquita McCain, said the family is “going to continue disputing” the police account.
D.C. police last month fully equipped the remainder of its patrol officers with body cameras, completing a $5.1 million effort that started in 2014 as a pilot program.
But only a small amount of body camera video has been released to the public, shielded in most cases because it is considered evidence in open investigations. The mayor can make exceptions for a release, as she did in this case, if she deems the video “in the public interest.”
Bowser said she consulted with the U.S. attorney’s office before releasing the video in Hall’s case. “We want to release as much information out to the public as quickly as we can get it out,” she said. “It is clear in the video what our officer encountered . . . and we want to make sure the members of the public see that.”
Since 2015, D.C. police have released video showing private security guards restraining a man who later died and video of officers fatally shooting an armed man who had refused to put down his gun.
In September, a D.C. police officer who fatally shot Terrence Sterling, 31, of Fort Washington, Md., failed to turn on his body camera until after shots were fired. Authorities have said Sterling drove his motorcycle into a cruiser.
Police released the body camera video showing officers trying to resuscitate Sterling and, in a departure from policy, identified the officer who fired: Brian Trainer, 27. Police have since tightened the rules on officers using body cameras, requiring them to confirm with dispatchers that they have turned on their body cameras when they respond to a call or interact with citizens.
Authorities said events leading to the Christmas Day shooting of Hall began the day before, when he got into an argument with his girlfriend and took the keys to her home without her permission.
Police said Hall then went to the girlfriend’s home on Walnut Street about 11 a.m. on Dec. 25, using the keys he had taken.
Officers were called to the home twice on Christmas, officials said Wednesday. A neighbor complained of a disturbance, and police investigated and said Hall’s girlfriend confirmed an argument but said there was no violence.
An hour later, Donahue said Wednesday, the girlfriend’s sister and a neighbor called police to report an argument and said the girlfriend had locked herself in the house. Both callers mentioned a knife, though it is unclear whether that information was passed on to the responding officers. A police report says Hall “started lighting paper towels on fire and turned on the gas” to a stove.
The police report says a person in the home took one knife away from Hall but that he then got a second knife and stabbed his girlfriend in the right arm.
Body camera footage from the officer who fired shows him rushing across the lawn and ascending exterior stairs to a small second-floor rear landing, enclosed by a railing. Police told a neighbor on the landing who was trying to mediate the dispute to leave, according to the audio on the footage.
The girlfriend comes to the door, with Hall standing directly behind her, holding a knife in his right hand, the blade pointed down. The officer tells him three times to drop the weapon. There is a wall immediately behind Hall.
Hall pushes his girlfriend out the back door and on to the landing. Police tell her to move. The door swings open and Hall comes forward, the knife still in his right hand. The officer fires his gun and Hall stumbles backward and collapses facedown on a tile floor.
One officer rushes to his car to retrieve a medical kit. The officer who fired turns Hall over, cuts open his shirt and compresses the wound to try to stop the bleeding.