A Richmond police officer is under investigation after he shot and killed an unarmed naked man who lunged at him during a confrontation earlier this month.
Videos released by the Richmond Police Department showed a visibly disturbed Marcus-David Peters screaming and walking toward officer Michael Nyantakyi. He fired his Taser several times, but Peters kept charging. Seconds later, Nyantakyi fired two rounds from his firearm, striking Peters twice in the abdomen. Peters died later at a hospital.
“It was all said and done in 18 seconds, ladies and gentlemen. That’s fast. That’s important,” Richmond Police Chief Alfred Durham told reporters at a news conference Friday, when his department released videos that showed the last minutes of Peters’s life. Durham added that the unusual disclosure was in the interest of transparency. “I only wish that we could’ve helped Mr. Peters. … Unfortunately, the situation didn’t turn out that way.”
But the release of the videos did little to comfort Peters’s family and friends, who said the man they saw in those videos was not the man they knew. The footage also had not answered the family’s lingering questions about the events that led to an unarmed man’s killing at the hands of a police officer.
“Marcus needed help, not death,” his sister, Princess Blanding, told reporters shortly after the videos were released Friday. “The body-camera footage released by Richmond Police Department today confirmed what I already knew. Marcus was unarmed, clearly in distress and in need of help. And instead of receiving help, he received two fatal bullets.”
The May 14 officer-involved shooting in the Virginia capital about 110 miles south of Washington, raises familiar questions about when fatal force is necessary and prompted calls from Peters’s family to change police department policies. Questions also remain about how a 24-year-old high school biology teacher with no criminal record, and whose family said had no history of mental illness or substance abuse, ended up naked on the street, screaming belligerently at a police officer.
Shortly after 5 p.m. and minutes before he was shot, Peters arrived at the Jefferson Hotel in downtown Richmond, where he worked part-time as a security guard. Surveillance footage showed Peters in a light pink shirt and pants getting out of his car at the hotel entrance. As he walked in the lobby, Peter took his shirt off and dropped it on the floor. He was later seen in what appears to be a security staff backroom, where he talked to an employee. Later, he ran toward his car, naked.
Peters drove for a few minutes on Belvidere Street, a major artery that leads to an on-ramp to an interstate, rear-ending two vehicles and sideswiping another on the way, Durham told reporters. As he reached the on-ramp, Peters lost control of his car and slammed into a tree line. At that point, Nyantakyi arrived.
In the body-camera footage, Nyantakyi can be heard talking into his radio as he stood several feet behind Peters’s car, his weapon drawn.
“Male seems to be mentally unstable as we speak,” he said.
Peters got out of his car’s window, feet first, and ran toward the street in front of oncoming traffic. A car struck him and he fell to the ground. As he stumbled, he began rolling on the street in the middle of traffic. A few minutes later, he stood up and walked toward Nyantakyi, who fired his Taser and, later, his firearm, shooting Peters at close range.
As Peters was lying on the grass, several officers were seen standing around him. Durham said the officers were rendering aid. Nyantakyi, who had told another officer that he used his Taser on Peters but it “didn’t work,” appears to be a few feet away. He can be heard breathing heavily.
Medics arrived about five minutes after Peters was shot. He died around midnight, Durham said.
Nyantakyi, a 10-year veteran with the police department, has been placed on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation of the officer’s use of deadly force. The city’s commonwealth’s attorney will decide whether to bring charges.
Durham said the police department showed the videos to Peters’s family a few days before releasing them to the media.
At the nearly hour-long news conference Friday, Durham extended condolences to Peters’s family, while also acknowledging the “emotional toll” on Nyantakyi and his family. He largely declined to answer questions about the incident or about department protocol, citing the pending investigation. Instead, he asked the public and media to let the investigation run its course.
Releasing body-camera footage has not been his department’s practice, Durham said.
“However, there is just so much misinformation and speculation out there about what actually happened,” he said. “I feel it is my duty and responsibility as the chief of police to let everyone see it, in the interest of transparency.”
Toward the end of the news conference, Durham, appearing frustrated, said his officers are often placed in impossible situations that require them to “wear different hats.”
“I looked at what it would take to become a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental-health counselor. Five to eight years of training. Our police department gives our officers 40 hours. Five to eight years, and we get 40 hours,” he told reporters. “… People expect us to go out there and get it right. … And when incidents come like this, and folks just want to beat us up without having all the facts, that hurts, ladies and gentlemen. It hurts the morale of the men and women on my department, and it hurts me.”
“We want a fair and through investigation,” he added. “Do not pass judgment. If you do, shame on you.”
Shortly after the news conference, Peters’s family spoke to the media, raising questions about Nyantakyi’s actions.
“Nothing justifies Marcus not being here. He will never get the opportunity to tell his side of the story,” Blanding, Peters’s sister, told reporters.
Blanding asked why Nyantakyi “proceeded to engage” Peters despite knowing that he was mentally unstable. She asked why Nyantakyi, after the shooting, told another officer that fatal force might again be necessary.
Peters taught biology at Essex High School in Tappahannock, Va., nearly 50 miles from Richmond. Shortly after his death, students placed handwritten notes on his classroom door. “Fly high Mr. Peters, Rest in Peace, guide us through high school and we will make you proud,” read one note, according to CBS affiliate WTVR.
According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Peters taught a full day of classes on May 14 and made the long drive home to Henrico County, where he lived with his girlfriend. He left home again at about 5 p.m. Minutes later, he was seen at the Jefferson Hotel.
Blanding, an assistant principal at Essex High School, told the Times-Dispatch that nothing about her brother’s life and behavior suggested he would die the way he did. She called for a change in police department policies that she said have often led to violent treatment of people of color. Both Peters and Nyantakyi are black.
“They didn’t have to kill him,” Blanding told the paper. “Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at the Parkland shooting; Travis Jeffrey Reinking killed four people in a Tennessee Waffle House; Dylann Roof killed nine people in Charleston. They were all armed, and they received restraint. They didn’t receive death.”
Nationwide, police shot and killed 987 people in 2017, according to The Washington Post’s database of police shootings. Mental illness played a role in a quarter of those incidents. Police have fatally shot 412 so far this year; 70 of these incidents involved mental illness.