WBEN Photo/TIm Wenger

Attorney: Video of fatal officer-involved shooting incident "very disturbing"

Surveillance video shows victim running away from police

September 16, 2018 - 9:52 pm

Buffalo, N.Y. (WBEN) - The attorney representing the victim in Wednesday's fatal officer-involved shooting says surveillance video he has obtained tells a very different story from the one being characterized by the initial Buffalo Police investigation.

Attorney Steve Cohen is representing the family of 32 year old Rafael Rivera who was fatally shot by police on the property of the old School 77 on Plymouth Avenue. 

WBEN was on the scene shortly after the incident and also at a police briefing later in the day when police released findings of their initial investigation.

Buffalo Police Deputy Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia says officers responded to a call of a man with a gun around 3am Wednesday. "The suspect refused multiple requests by the officer to put the gun down. At that time, the officer discharged his service weapon to stop the immediate threat the suspect posed," says Gramaglia. He adds officers immediately called for first aid, but the suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

After reviewing the video this weekend, Cohen tells WBEN the footage is "very disturbing" and provided us with an extensive statement(see below) detailing the story the video tells.  "At no point did I see Mr. Rivera point a firearm at anyone", Cohen says.

Following is a detailed statement from Cohen to WBEN on the video his office holds:

At 3:14:10, Mr. Rivera can be seen emerging from Plymouth Avenue, running on foot, turning into the parking lot of the former School 77.  He stumbles and falls to the ground.  It is unknown if he has already been shot.  He is wearing a bright red shirt.  While on the ground, another officer is seen leveling his weapon at Mr. Rivera.  Mr. Rivera tries to crawl away from the officer, and as he is getting up to run away – not towards, not perpendicular to, but away – from the officer, you can see the officer firing two (2) shots at 03:14:19 into Mr. Rivera, who falls to the ground.  You can actually see the muzzle flashes of the officer’s gun.

Many officers begin to appear, they handcuff Mr. Rivera, render no first-aid that I can see.  Several officers gather round with the shooter, and talk.  At some point, one of the other officers notices surveillance cameras on the building of the former School 77.  You see him shine his flashlight at them, including the camera from which the subject video came.  Upon that observation, most of the officers back away from the scene, leaving the officer that shot Mr. Rivera and one other officer, with Mr. Rivera.  After many more police cars and ambulances and firetrucks arrive, the other officers again approach the scene.

At no point did I see Mr. Rivera point a firearm at anyone.  I can’t see if anything is even in his hand.

At the point the officer fired his gun, neither he, nor any other officer or person appeared to me to be in any danger of being shot by Mr. Rivera.  At no time on the 35 minute video do we see any officer collect, tag or bag a firearm, either from the pavement or from Mr. Rivera’s person.

The initial statement by Deputy Commissioner Gramaglia declared it to be a good shoot, necessary to save the life of the officer.  Once the police established that there was, indeed, video from the cameras they observed, they began crafting a narrative of what happened before Mr. Rivera came into the view of the camera.

At 7:30 AM that morning, after the shooting, the police got former prosecutor James Bargnesi, now a County Court Judge, to sign a search warrant for the premises at 197 Massachesetts.  The language of the warrant appears to me to be a desperate attempt to find some evidence that Mr. Rivera had committed some kind of crime, in order to justify Mr. Rivera’s death at the hands of the police.


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