Videotape from a static-mounted security camera shows one viewpoint of the January 31, 2012 officer-involved shooting of 19-year-old Victor Rodriguez. Of that there can be no debate.
Per standard operating procedure, the radio transmissions between New Brunswick (New Jersey) police officers and area dispatch were recorded on audio tape. Of that, too, I offer no dispute.
However, I will vehemently disagree with anyone who uses a cobbled-together YouTube video (pairing otherwise-soundless video surveillance tape and the post-critical-incident police radio traffic) to promote their own personal political agenda.
Officers and agencies are constantly under public scrutiny because of a misconception that a prone subject is a helpless subject, which simply is not "always" true.
The Two-Three-One Rule
As we reported, the video in question was released on YouTube by NewBrunswickToday.com, which names 26-year-old Charlie Kratovil as its editor. In an article on the website, Kratovil, an independent candidate for New Brunswick City Council in the upcoming general election and local activist, delivers a special brand of commentary on what he believes the video shows.
The video — which has reportedly not yet been officially released to the public — was edited such that the abovementioned radio transmissions can be heard overlaid on the raw surveillance video. Nice little trick, but unfortunately, one that reveals a lack of understanding about the dynamics of armed encounters.
Videotape is merely a two-dimensional record of a three-dimensional event viewed from one vantage point, and therefore cannot show completely what happened during a given incident.
Further, a police shooting is a rapidly-unfolding, highly-dynamic, life-threatening event, which cannot ever be fully “captured” on video.
Consequently, one can only surmise a small handful of things, never getting anywhere near the “totality of the circumstance” as perceived by those officers at that moment in time.
Assumptions, Conclusions, and Scientific Research
Before going any further, let’s briefly summarize what we really can see in the video.
At around the 23-second mark, 19-year-old Victor Rodriguez is seen running from left to right into view, passing what appears to be a stopped, unmarked police vehicle. Rodriguez can then be seen falling face-first to the street. In the moments that pass, you can see officers attempting to secure the scene, and standing nearby the subject’s prone body awaiting the arrival of EMS.
Now, for what the video doesn’t show (anything and everything):
• Everything that happened outside the area the lens sees • Anything the officers may have seen from their positions
Although the quality of the video makes it very difficult to ascertain precisely when any shots were fired, what the suspect was doing or saying at the time, or what the officers’ fields of vision looked like, Kratovil reaches a number of his own conclusions — well, uh, ah, assumptions — in the article he authored on his website.
Kratovil’s article stated that “the driver gets out and shoots Rodriguez, who falls face first in the middle of the street and loses his fake gun, which can be observed sliding several yards down the street.”
Kratovil states — as if it is fact, when really it is his perception of the event — that three seconds after he hits the ground, “Rodriguez’s body visibly lifts off the ground as he is shot again by another officer. It was that shot that permanently paralyzed him, according to his attorneys.”
Rodriguez’s relatives claim that some of the shots hitting the young man were fired after he was already on the ground.
This may be true. Maybe not, but let’s assume for a moment it is precisely what happened.
I offer just one little morsel of “food for thought” here.
As I have previously written, it is scientifically proven that prone subjects can turn deadly in an instant. For example, a groundbreaking scientific study undertaken jointly by the Hillsboro (Ore.), Police Department and the Force Science Institute revealed that suspects lying flat with hands hidden under the chest or waist can produce and fire a gun at an approaching officer faster than any human being can react.
More than two years ago, I wrote that “officers and agencies are constantly under public scrutiny because of a misconception that a prone subject is a helpless subject, and therefore any video footage of a couple cops forcibly subduing — or using deadly force on — a prone subject is considered ‘excessive.’ The fact is, a prone subject can easily fire from that position in an unbelievably short period of time.”
When this incident occurred in New Brunswick, it is very possible that Rodriquez still had in his possession a “starter’s pistol” — apparently modeled after a 9mm Beretta — in his possession. According to reports, Rodriguez had in the moments prior to this shooting allegedly brandished and fired that “fake gun” while attempting to break up a skirmish between two other men.
If, while lying prone, Rodriguez revealed even the slightest indication he was an armed threat... well, you know where I’m going from there.
Some Things Are Just Predictable
Do I know what happened that night? Not just “No!” but “Hell, no!”
But that’s the point! I don’t know what happened and neither does Kratovil. My thoughts on prone subjects and whether or not that played even the slightest role in this incident are speculation... conjecture... opinion!
Meanwhile, thanks to the edited video Kratovil had at least some role in posting to the Internet, the press and the public have pounced on New Brunswick police. I guess that’s to be expected. In fact, I would bet a waist-high stack of green money that was the intended effect.
The video — which was posted to YouTube in a way that appears to be timed to coincide with the filing on Monday of a lawsuit claiming the use of excessive force by police officers — has it's intended audience, and PoliceOne Members are not it.
We show it here on the site because it is an excellent starting point for our own discussion.
For example, we know that any video which has been doctored, edited, and/or altered won’t be admitted into evidence at trial.
“But wait!” you say? “Perhaps the court is not Kravotil’s intended audience?!”
“Correct!” I reply!
Remember, Kravotil is running for O-F-F-I-C-E!
About the author
Doug Wyllie is Editor in Chief of PoliceOne, responsible for setting the editorial direction of the website and managing the planned editorial features by our roster of expert writers. In addition to his editorial and managerial responsibilities, Doug has authored more than 650 feature articles and tactical tips on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association. He is also a member of the Public Safety Writers Association, and is a two-time (2011 and 2012) Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" Finalist in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. Even in his "spare" time, he is active in his support for the law enforcement community, contributing his time and talents toward police-related charitable events as well as participating in force-on-force training, search-and-rescue training, and other scenario-based training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.
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