Robert Adams was standing in a San Bernardino, Calif., parking lot Saturday when a sedan with tinted windows rolled up. Two police officers exited suddenly, guns drawn and eventually pointed toward Adams, according to surveillance footage.
A handgun was recovered at the scene, police said, although Adams does not appear to point a gun at the officers, according to the footage.
The video spread widely on social media this week, prompting questions about whether the shooting was justified. At a news conference Wednesday, attorneys representing Adams’s family said the unmarked car may have given Adams the impression that he was getting robbed or attacked and that police should not have shot him as he fled.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the lawyers representing Adams’s family, called it a “horrific execution” and said it was an example of “shoot first and ask questions later.” Adams’s mother, Tamika Deavila King, called for the firing of the officers involved in the incident.
“I want them off our force because I don’t want this to ever happen to another mother,” she said Wednesday, adding that she had been on the phone with Adams before the shooting.
The shooting occurred less than a month after police officers in Ohio fatally shot another Black man, 25-year-old Jayland Walker, nearly four dozen times as he fled law enforcement unarmed.
Black Americans are shot by police at a disproportionate rate, according to Washington Post tracking. So far this year, officers have shot and killed more than 580 people in the United States.
San Bernardino Police Chief Darren Goodman said in a video statement Tuesday that the surveillance video “fails to provide critical details or context” about the shooting. The officers are not on leave, a police spokesperson told the Guardian newspaper.
“We ask that the public and the media allow us to complete our investigation and obtain all of the facts available before rendering opinions,” Goodman said.
On Saturday just after 8 p.m., two uniformed officers in an unmarked car were surveilling a parking lot after “receiving information from a citizen informant that a Black male adult armed with a handgun” was present, Goodman said.
When the officers arrived, police saw two men, Goodman said. One of them, wearing a white shirt and later identified as Adams, was “clearly displaying a gun in his waistband,” Goodman said, highlighting a portion of the video in which Adams appears to pull out an object and take several steps toward the unmarked car before the officers emerge. Goodman said Adams pulled out a gun.
That’s when officers got out of the car and gave Adams “verbal commands,” Goodman said. The surveillance video, which does not include audio, shows officers suddenly emerge from the vehicle with their guns drawn, at which point Adams turns around and runs toward several parked cars.
As Adams ran, an officer shot him, according to Goodman. The surveillance footage shows the officer fire within 25 seconds of entering the parking lot. Adams falls behind the parked cars near a wall. Goodman said officers believed Adams “intended to use the vehicle as cover to shoot at them.”
The department released roughly 10 seconds of body-camera footage belonging to the officer who shot Adams. That video, initially without sound, shows the officer exit the driver’s side of the vehicle and run toward Adams with a gun pointed at him. He then shoots at Adams multiple times as Adams runs away. As Adams falls onto his back, the sound turns on, and the officers can be heard yelling.
Police released another portion of the body-camera footage in which an officer appears to give Adams first aid. The department said Adams later died at a hospital.
On Wednesday, Adams’s attorneys disputed the police department’s account, saying the shooting was unjustified. Bradley Gage, an attorney representing Adams’s family, said the unmarked police car rolled into the parking lot as though it were about to perform a “drive-by shooting.”
Moreover, the attorneys said, the officers did not provide ample warning, and Adams should not have been shot.
Adams had been an honor student and had aspirations to attend business school, Gage said. “Rob was a son,” he said. “Rob had a family.”
King, Adams’s mother, said her son was in the parking lot with his friend, who had just gotten a new car. “They were so excited about his friend getting his car, and that’s what we were talking about on the phone,” King said.
All of a sudden, she said, she heard gunshots.
“He never told me goodbye,” she said.