For seven tense minutes one night last week, at least five D.C. police officers pointed their guns at 63-year-old Sherman Evans as he stood on a grassy rise in front of an apartment building, holding what looked like a real firearm.
Officers yelled for him to surrender, often shouting over each other even as they interspersed “Please” and “sir” with expletives that sharpened their commands and reflected the pressure of the dangerous moment.
“Drop the f------ gun. Drop the f------ gun,” one officer yelled, an order that was given repeatedly but which Evans seemed to ignore as he paced in front of his residence on Varnum Street NE on June 27. “Come on, sir: Put it down. We’ll talk,” another officer yelled. “Come on — tell me what’s going on. . . . Talk to me.”
Authorities said that Evans raised what was later discovered to be a pellet gun, and at least five officers fired at him. Evans, who was hit three times, collapsed on a walkway and later died at a hospital. His final moments can be seen in a video recorded on body cameras attached to the shirts of two D.C. police officers and posted by the District on the Internet.
The videos do not directly capture the shooting, although sustained gunfire can be heard. They depict officers appearing patient, but also anxious, as they pleaded for a surrender. Most of the footage is from the perspective of a single officer, the viewer’s eyes guided by his outstretched arms and hands clutching a police gun.
City Administrator Rashad M. Young said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) ordered the video’s release even though it is exempt from public disclosure laws and the internal investigation is still in the early stages. He said the mayor believed that it met the public-interest exception and wanted to assure residents that its police force is accountable and transparent.
The public airing comes as two other videos taken by bystanders in Louisiana and Minnesota have refocused national attention on shootings by police and raised questions in those instances about the potential misuse of deadly force.
Young said the District decided to make its video public before those incidents, but he said he believes that the video “is in contrast to the national conversation.” He said the video, while disturbing, “shows how our officers respond in these situations as opposed to what we’ve seen on the national news over the past two days.”
D.C. officials said they offered Evans’s family a chance to look at the video but that as of mid-afternoon Thursday no one had responded. One of Evans’s daughters, Katrina Gaynor, 45, said her brother-in-law watched it when it was publicly posted and concluded that neither Evans nor the gun could be seen very well.
Gaynor called it “disrespectful” to publicize the last moments of her father’s life the day before his Friday funeral. “We didn’t ask for this,” Gaynor said. “They didn’t ask my sister if they could put this out, they told her. . . . That’s not right. They didn’t have to kill my father.”
Sgt. Matthew Mahl, chairman of the D.C. police union, objected to making the video public before the U.S. Attorney’s Office could review the case to determine whether the shooting was legally justified. But he said that the video “truly shows the compassion and the time that these officers gave to get this guy to comply with their orders so they didn’t have to fire their guns.”
The video shows that officers, who arrived at the scene at 10:27 p.m., repeatedly pleaded with Evans to drop his weapon. Assistant D.C. Police Chief Kimberly Chisley-Missouri said that Evans did respond but that his comments could not be heard on the video, and she declined to discuss them.
What officers responding did not know was that Evans was sometimes depressed, that the gun he held in his right hand was not real and that it was he, himself, who police believe made the first 911 calls to report a man “out in front of the building brandishing a gun.”
Chisley-Missouri said that it was a male voice and that the recording at that phone number identified the owner as “Sherman.”
Gaynor said that her father, who grew up in the District and served briefly in the Air Force, had been very upset over the last year’s death of a female friend and that he sometimes checked himself into a Veterans Affairs Medical Center. But she said she and her sister had talked to him days before the shooting and that “he didn’t sound like he was going through anything.” He had five children and 11 grandchildren.
Chisley-Missouri, who heads the department’s Internal Affairs Division, which is leading the investigation, would not say whether detectives believe Evans was trying to provoke police into shooting him — committing what is referred to as “suicide by cop.”
After Evans fell, officers rushed in, handcuffed him and then turned him on his side as they awaited paramedics. One officer told a colleague, “He raised it,” referring to the gun. The officer responded, “I know he did.”