Police in Florida have released body camera footage showing the moment a black man is shot and killed by a plainclothes deputy, who claimed the 22-year-old drew a gun as he was running away earlier this month.
The attorneys representing the family of the slain man, Salaythis Melvin, however, say newly released footage of the incident contradicts the officer’s story and now plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit as their son posed ‘no threat’.
They also claim an officer called Melvin the ‘n-word’ while administering first aid to him as he lay on the ground fighting for his life.
Melvin was shot dead by Orange County Sheriff’s Office Agent James Montiel on August 7 outside the Florida Mall.
Montiel was not wearing police uniform or a body camera at the time of the shooting. The fatal incident was however captured on a responding officer’s bodycam from a distance, which has now been released by the Sheriff’s department.
Melvin had reportedly been part of a group of four who had been stopped by police outside the mall. One of the four suspects, who was not Melvin, had a warrant out for his arrest and was wanted in connection with a shooting.
But as police approached Melvin, he suddenly took off on foot and was pursued by Montiel, a police affidavit claims.
During the on-foot pursuit, the deputy says he saw Melvin had a handgun in his waistband, according to the affidavit.
Montiel allegedly told Melvin to drop his weapon, but Melvin kept running.
The officer then claims Melvin turned his head back towards him as he was running, and started to face him, this time with the gun in his hand.
Montiel claims he felt under threat, prompting him to open fire on Melvin. The 22-year-old was struck in the back and later died in hospital.
The Orange County Sheriff’s office released six videos Tuesday from the fatal shooting. In one clip, a deputy is seen driving toward Melvin, who is seen in the distance running across the parking lot before falling to the ground mid-stride.
The footage from the officer’s body camera was captured too far away to conclusively determine whether Melvin had a gun in his hand at the moment he was shot. A stolen Glock handgun was recovered from the scene, though deputies were unaware the gun was stolen until after the shooting.
Montiel, meanwhile, is seen running up to a floored Melvin around four seconds later. Other deputies then arrive on scene, get out of their patrol vehicles and surround Melvin with their guns drawn.
Melvin is heard groaning and writhing around on the floor in pain. Deputies are repeatedly heard shouting out ‘Get you f***ing hands up,’ and ‘Stop f***ing moving’.
‘Get your hands out or you’re going to get f***ing shot,’ one officer calls out, before seeming to realize that Melvin is actually in a state of medical distress.
As the officers approach Melvin, still with their weapons drawn, he is heard whimpering on the floor as one officer moves in to handcuff him. As soon as he’s cuffed, officers begin administering first aid.
During this time, around five minute into the video, one of the deputies is allegedly heard calling Melvin the ‘n-word’ under his breath, though the audio from the footage is not conclusive.
Carlus Haynes, one of the attorneys representing Melvin’s family, said ‘the more we listened to it, the more it sounds like he was called the n-word.’
The Orange County Sheriff’s Office said it was ‘aware of allegations … that a deputy on the video made inappropriate comments.’
The OCSO has reportedly initiated an internal inquiry into the matter and will make the results of that probe public upon completion, the department said.
Bradley Laurent, a second attorney representing the family, said the footage shows Melvin was not a threat to officers.
Laurent, who publicly lobbied for the release of the video for several days, said there is no indication in the footage that Melvin had his hand on the gun or was aiming at officers.
‘When you look at the video, he was in a full sprint. He posed no threat to anyone,’ he said during a press conference.
‘That man is running too fast to look back at anyone,’ Haynes added. ‘He was in a full-out sprint away from this officer.’
The attorneys also questioned why deputies approached Melvin and his three associates in multiple unmarked cars to make an arrest warrant, and why Montiel shot Melvin as he was running when nearby deputies in cars could’ve easily caught up with him.
‘You’ve got all these vehicles, why do you need to shoot?’ Haynes said, adding he believed deputies created ‘the dangerous situation’ that ultimately led to Melvin’s death.
The attorneys say they plan to file a wrongful death lawsuit on behalf of Melvin’s family against Montiel and the Sheriff’s Office.
The attorneys also shared a statement from Melvin’s mom and stepdad, Michelin McKee and Ryan Findley, who called his death by the deputy a ‘senseless murder of our son.’
‘We know that at the time of his death he was not a saint, however he was loving member of our family and due to the actions of several Orange County Sheriff’s deputies, his life was cut way too short,’ his parents said. ‘We will never know if he would have made changes for the better.
‘Promise us, and the citizens of Orange County that no one – be they black or white, young or old, Baptist or Catholic – be gunned down in the manner our son was.’
According to records from the Florida Department of Corrections, Melvin was sentenced in 2016 to three years in prison for battery on law enforcement, resisting arrest, theft, and drug charges. He was released in November last year.
The attorneys representing his family have asked Sheriff John Mina to immediately introduce a policy that prohibits deputies from shooting at anyone fleeing.
‘It’s not … deer season. We’re not shooting people in the back, period,’ Haynes said.
Haynes and Laurent are also asking Mina to require deputies to give their statements about a shooting before they review video footage and that deputies be placed on leave without pay after a shooting.
Montiel is currently on paid leave while FDLE investigates the shooting. The attorneys have asked that he be suspended without pay or fired until the investigation is complete.
The shooting is now under investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.