Police say witness account corroborates officer's story of fatal officer-involved shooting

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

A witness being driven in a police cruiser for an unrelated case had an “exceptional vantage point” in a fatal police-involved shooting Thursday and has corroborated the officer’s version of how the deadly encounter started, Commissioner Richard Ross said Friday.

“That witness, [who] I guess you could say unfortunately had an exceptional vantage point because of where he was, does corroborate what the officer said about how the initial encounter began,” Ross told reporters gathered outside Police Headquarters.

Questions remain about the shooting, at least parts of which were captured on surveillance video obtained by NBC10. That video shows the officer firing a shot at the 30-year-old man as he appears to be running away.

“We’re going to be very honest about the fact that there is a video and in that video, the male is actually fleeing from the officer,” Ross said.

Authorities have not released the names of the shooting victim or the officer, who has been placed on desk duty pending an investigation.

According to a police statement, the officer was driving witnesses to the Special Victims Unit in an unrelated matter when he saw a man on a red dirt bike ride past in a “reckless manner” around 6:40 p.m. at Whitaker and Hunting Park Avenues in North Philadelphia. The rider passed the officer, but then his bike stalled on the sidewalk near the Casa de Espana restaurant on the 4200 block of Whitaker, allowing the officer to pull up and question the man, police said.

“Initially, he was only going there to tell this guy just to knock it off,” Ross said. “When he goes to him, the guy is already off the motorcycle, and the guy turns to kind of walk away and he’s ignoring the police officer, which is obviously somewhat suspicious.”

The officer grabbed the man by the waist, felt the outline of a gun, and told the man not to pull the weapon out, according to police. Ross said the witness in the back of the police car told the man not to pull his weapon, too.

“The witness’ actual quote, as I understand it, is he looks in his face and says, ‘Bro, don’t do it. Bro, don’t do it,’ ” Ross said.

But the man got away from the officer and pulled out a gun, according to police. The officer pulled out his own gun, but when he squeezed the trigger, it did not fire, police said. When the officer was able to do so, he fired at the man as he ran south on Whitaker, according to the police statement. The man did not shoot at the officer, but his 9mm firearm was loaded with 15 cartridges, authorities said.

The man, who was hit in his back and buttocks, was taken to Temple University Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 6:59 p.m., according to police.

Ross said the fact that the officer shot at the man from behind is “a piece that we want to look at very closely.”

Police said the dirt bike rider was not licensed to carry a concealed weapon in Philadelphia. It is also illegal to drive dirt bikes on city streets, but residents say that doesn’t stop many riders from zooming along in the area of North Philadelphia where the incident took place, surrounded by Juniata Park, Feltonville, and Hunting Park.

One resident, Victor Rosario, 49, a member of the Philadelphia Police clergy who works with the nearby 25th Police District at Whitaker and Luzerne Street, said dirt bike riders have been a major presence in the area in recent years.

“You can just sit along Hunting Park Avenue and watch them all go by like you’re watching a movie,” Rosario said. “They think they have control of the street.”

Many of the dirt bike riders come to the neighborhood to ride the trails in an area of Tacony Creek Park just off Whitaker, less than a mile from where the shooting occurred, according to Rosario.

This year, for the first time, Rosario said, he got a license to carry a concealed weapon because he found himself stopped at a light at Whitaker and Roosevelt Boulevard, surrounded by 10 dirt bike riders who began kicking his car.

“You just have to get used to it,” he said. “But at the same time it makes you fearful inside.”