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Surveillance video shows suspect running away when fatally shot by police

Mike Desmond

The attorney for the family of Rafael "Pito" Rivera says a high-definition surveillance video clearly shows Rivera running away from Buffalo Police when he was fatally shot early Wednesday morning. Attorney Steven Cohen says the video was provided to the family by PUSH Buffalo, which rents the former School 77 building. The fatal shots took place in the parking lot of the building.

"You see him stumble and fall, and at no time is he facing that officer," Cohen said. "You see him as he's getting up to run away again, the officer shoots him in the back and as Mr. Rivera continues to run away from the police officer, the second shot in the back."

Cohen says he has forwarded the video to the Erie County District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the evidence trail. He is calling for transparency from Buffalo Police.

On Thursday, police said Rivera was armed and shot after a 3 a.m. confrontation.

"At approximately 3:05 this morning, officers responded to a man with a gun call in the vicinity of Plymouth and Massachusetts," said Deputy Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia, outlining the official account of the incident. "At that time, the officer encountered a man who had a gun and engaged in a short foot pursuit that ended in a parking lot in the 400 block of Plymouth Avenue. 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."

Officer Elnur Karadzhaev was was placed on administrative leave, as is department protocol, while the investigation goes on. He was not wearing a body camera because that test has ended. Because there was a gun found at the site of the confrontation, the state attorney general's office will not conduct an investigation as they are required to do in cases of unarmed individuals shot by police.

Cohen, however, said that it does not look as if Rivera is armed in the video, and he has another complaint with police about how the family and the video evidence were treated.

"They did not permit the family to view the body of Mr. Rivera," said Cohen. "They tried to commandeer the hard drive of the video from the business that had the video, but that organization kept a copy and we were able to get a copy of it. In fact, we've had many people look at it and they can't identify a firearm in the video."

Cohen said police showed the family only a photograph of Rivera's face for identification purposes. The coroner's report will determine cause of death.

Cohen said he has invited "any legitimate media organization" to his office to view the video, but he will not be releasing it to media "in respect to the family." WBFO accepted Cohen's invitation Monday.

The color surveillance video covers a wide-angle view of the parking lot. At the opposite end of the lot appears a suspect - presumably Rivera - wearing a red sweatshirt, being chased by a single police officer with his gun drawn - presumably Karadzhaev - then others.

The suspect stumbles, then crawls several feet, before getting up and continuing to run away, with police behind him. Although the video is not clear enough to see faces or whether the suspect is carrying a weapon, it appears the single officer is yelling commands to the suspect on the ground.

As the suspect gets up and runs away again, two flashes can be seen from the gun of the single officer, then the suspect falls forward to the ground. Several officers move in and cuff the suspect - and there he remains until the end of the 35-minute video.

It appears the suspect moves his head at least once after being cuffed. Police said later that Rivera was declared dead at the scene.

The video does not include the arrival of the coroner, but does include other officers, an ambulance and a fire truck arriving on scene. It ends with emergency personnel bringing out a sheet, presumably to lay over the suspect.

Through all this activity, an officer remains standing wide-legged over an area of the parking lot in front of the suspect. The picture is not clear enough to see whether there is an item on the ground there - or anywhere in the parking lot. Cohen said he hopes enhancing computer software will be able to clarify the resolution.

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