Video: Man ejects magazine from pistol before trying to shoot La. officers
A man threatening pedestrians on a New Orleans sidewalk was shot multiple times after charging at police officers while brandishing a pistol
Ramon Antonio Vargas
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans police officer Ryeisha Warren’s marked patrol unit had just come to a stop at Dauphine and St. Louis streets in the French Quarter when a man who had been accosting pedestrians left the sidewalk pulled a handgun from the waistband of his pants and pointed it at Warren.
Police said Austin Bentel, who had been screaming “I don’t care” moments earlier, had taken the magazine out of the pistol but nonetheless pulled the weapon’s slide back as if preparing to shoot.
Warren and three other police officers who approached the scene on foot that Jan. 25 morning had no way of knowing Bentel’s gun wasn’t loaded. They fired 15 shots, and Bentel, 21, was hit in the face, torso and extremities, Police Superintendent Shaun Ferguson said Tuesday.
The tires on Warren’s cruiser were struck as well, sending air hissing out of them.
Police on Tuesday released videos of the officers’ encounter with Bentel to conform with transparency policies that the NOPD adopted as part of a federal reform pact signed in 2012.
Taken from body-worn, in-car, surveillance and city crime cameras, the footage — and accompanying audio — clearly shows Bentel pointed a handgun at Warren as well as at three strangers who happened to walk by him shortly before that.
Bentel’s mother last week said her son had been struggling with his mental health since the May 25 death of his father, and she believes those issues were exacerbated when he went out drinking in the hours before his shooting.
Ferguson declined to say whether he believed Bentel was trying to coax officers into shooting him. But Ferguson said he was grateful Bentel had not loaded the 9mm pistol he leveled at Warren and was regretful officers had to resort to shooting him — a difficult but correct decision, he said.
“She might not be here with us today,” Ferguson said of Warren while discussing the video with reporters on Tuesday. “We are relieved that this situation did not result in the loss of anyone’s life.”
Bentel remained hospitalized Tuesday, 10 days after officers shot him. He is alert and conscious, Ferguson said.
Warren and the other officers who fired their weapons — Steve Nolan, Matthew Tippett and Sierra Cochran — remained on desk duty Tuesday as the NOPD’s internal investigation into the Bentel case continued. But Ferguson said that assignment was more about making sure the officers had emotionally recovered from the shooting.
“They’re human,” he said. “They’re disturbed … having to shoot someone.”
Many of the circumstances that led Bentel to cross paths with Warren and the other officers were spelled out in a sworn police statement filed in Criminal District Court last week.
Bentel had been drinking in at least two French Quarter bars before he started walking along St. Louis Street with a co-worker about 7:35 a.m. As Bentel walked he pointed a gun he was carrying at two strangers near St. Louis and Dauphine.
The pair, seeing the gun, walked briskly away and past a third man. Bentel then approached that man, pointed the gun at the back of his head and declared, “I’ll shoot the (expletive) out of you,” the police statement said.
That man headed toward Bourbon Street as officers arrived to confront Bentel, who at that point had been reported to police by at least three different people.
Bentel was screaming, “I don’t care,” as Warren pulled up in her vehicle and the other three officers walked toward him.
Bentel is seen on the video raising his gun, pulling back the slide and pointing the weapon at Warren’s open driver’s window. On the video from her vehicle and body cameras, Warren can be heard twice shouting “Move!” before she fires her gun six times through the vehicle’s open window.
Standing on the passenger side of the cruiser, Nolan, Tippett and Cochran also fired at Bentel, who fell to the pavement in a heap.
Tippett fired six shots as well. Nolan fired twice and Cochran once, police said.
Video from Nolan’s body camera shows him approach Bentel, take a pistol from his hand and toss it aside. Nolan can he heard remarking in a tone of disbelief that Bentel was still pulling the trigger even after being shot.
Sgt. David Barnes, who is leading the NOPD’s investigation into the case, said Tuesday it wasn’t until later that police learned Bentel’s pistol didn’t have a magazine loaded in it. The magazine had not been recovered Tuesday.
A live round matching the caliber of Bentel’s gun lay near where he had been shot. Police stopped short of saying that the bullet had been ejected from the chamber of Bentel’s gun when he racked its slide. But they noted its proximity to Warren’s vehicle.
Paramedics rushed Bentel to University Medical Center. While he was still hospitalized, police used the New Orleans jail’s remote booking process to book him with three counts of aggravated assault with a firearm and one count each of aggravated assault upon an officer and possessing a gun on the premises of an alcoholic beverage outlet.
Each assault count can carry up to 10 years in prison.
Tuesday’s videos showed Bentel was wearing a black T-shirt reading “security” in white letters. Barnes said Bentel wore that shirt to his job at a club on Bourbon but didn’t specify which one.
Bentel is not licensed to work as an armed security guard in Louisiana, according to the state board which regulates the private security industry.
But the board’s director said the agency does not have the authority to regulate arrangements where clubs hire people directly to work on their staff as bouncers, though they are supposed to be unarmed.