Video: New Orleans man fatally shot after opening fire on officers

New Orleans officers responding to a suicide call fatally shot a man after he fired at them with a handgun

Ramon Antonio Vargas
The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

TREME, La. — New Orleans police released body-camera footage Thursday that showed officers fatally shooting a man after he fired at them with a handgun in Treme, Louisiana earlier this month.

Police said the video of the encounter with Zonell Williams, 33, provided evidence that the responding officers were justified using deadly force to defend themselves.

"This (situation) immediately escalated to saving lives and doing what was necessary to save their own lives," Police Department Superintendent Michael Harrison said of the officers.

The footage, captured by four officers' body-worn cameras, showed that Williams fired on officers from the doorway of a home and then advanced on them before the police shot back.

It also captured Mario Bravo, the officer who was hit by gunfire in his protective vest, repeatedly screaming, "I've been shot!" and "I've been hit!" as he approached Williams to pick up the weapon that Williams dropped after being mortally wounded.

The vest stopped two bullets that hit Bravo in his chest, and the second-year officer did not have any serious physical injuries.

In addition to Bravo, two other officers fired their service pistols at Williams, and police revealed their names Thursday. They were April Augustine and Darius Mcfarland.

All three have been on desk duty since the Jan. 4 incident, but they are expected to return to patrol duties this week, said Deputy Chief Arlinda Westbrook, who heads the Police Department's Public Integrity Bureau.

Mcfarland's camera was not among those that recorded footage of the incident; officials said the reason why remained under investigation. The video came from the cameras of Augustine, Bravo, Duncan Chauffe and Steven Friedrich.

Williams crossed paths with the officers when police responded to a reported suicide attempt about 10 p.m. at a home in the 2300 block of Orleans Avenue.

A child in the home called to report that Williams, a relative of the family living there, had pressed a gun against his own head and threatened to take his own life.

When police arrived and Augustine knocked on the door of the home, a woman emerged shrieking, "He's got a gun!" and sought cover by Bravo.

Bravo and Chauffe then sought cover behind some vehicles parked next to the sidewalk outside the home.

A second woman emerged screaming. Multiple body-worn cameras then captured Williams coming out of the home firing a gun, with two bullets hitting Bravo's protective vest.

Williams was hit multiple times and killed after Bravo, Augustine and McFarland fired back.

At one point, Bravo is seen slipping a new magazine into his service pistol.

Chauffe's voice is also captured on the body-camera footage pleading with Augustine: "April, get back!"

Chauffe's camera captured a bullet splintering wood off a telephone pole where he had sought cover as Williams fired. His camera then fell to the ground amidst the chaos.

Police on Thursday reiterated that it is standard protocol for that many officers to show up to a call apparently involving a mental-health crisis.

Bravo had received special training to handle mental crisis calls, but the situation with Williams developed too quickly for him to deploy the tactics he learned, police said.

Roughly 70 seconds lapsed between Augustine arriving at the home and Williams collapsing to the ground at the end of the gun battle.

Two of Bravo's colleagues entered the home after they were informed children were still inside, said Sgt. David Barnes, who investigates shootings involving officers.

Neither the children nor two women who had also been in the house were physically harmed, Barnes said.

Westbrook and Harrison said Williams had never been diagnosed with mental health problems, and his behavior in the final moments of his life was a mystery, according to his relatives.

Williams' family asked Harrison to attend his funeral and speak at it, which the superintendent did.

"The family wanted everyone to know they still supported the police," Harrison said. He also said that Williams' family had been notified the video of his fatal shooting would be released Thursday.

Harrison's briefing with the media was one of his last acts as superintendent. His last day on the job is Friday, after which he will leave for Baltimore to become that city's police commissioner.

Harrison's replacement, Shaun Ferguson, will be promoted from commander to superintendent on Friday.

Thursday's briefing was part of a push for transparency in the NOPD's review of lethal use-of-force incidents after the agency adopted a federal reform agreement several years ago. Ferguson said he intends to continue such briefings in similar cases.


©2019 The Advocate, Baton Rouge, La.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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