Newly released body camera footage shows the moment Utah officers opened fire on an unarmed Black man as he removed his right hand from his pocket — which the officers instructed him to do.
West Valley City police officers pursued 20-year-old Elijah James Smith on April 8, as he matched the description of a suspect accused of stealing from a nearby cell phone store, The Salt Lake Tribune reported. Police said Smith hopped the fence to the backyard of a home in an effort to flee, but the homeowner asked him to leave. That’s when he barged into another neighborhood home and hid in its garage.
When officers arrived at the second home, a 13-year-old boy answered the door and told them a man had enterered into his house. Two other children, aged 9 and 10, were also inside the home at the time of the incident.
Police soon went down to the garage where they found Smith standing next to the car.
“Put your hands up now. Let me see your hands,” officers shout repeatedly from the stairs that led to the garage. Smith initially only raised his left hand but left his right hand tucked in his pocket, according to The Salt Lake Tribune. Another officer is heard ordering the man to take out his other hand, after which Smith raised his right elbow as he removed his right hand.
Three shots are fired, one of them striking Smith. At the same time one officer fired their weapon, another officer discharged their stun gun, which didn’t reach the suspect. Smith would later die from his injuries.
After the shooting, authorities said they found a “modified” screwdriver on the floor next to the Smith. Investigators think it was the object tucked in his right-side pocket when he was reluctant to remove his hand.
In a news conference, West Valley City Police Chief Colleen Jacobs said officers perceived Smith as a threat because he “rapidly” removed his hand from his pocket, despite the fact that they instructed him to do so. The officer who fired the shots has since been placed on administrative leave, according to the newspaper.
News of Smith’s killing sparked protests across the community.
” …Once again, it’s clear that police will see whatever they want to see in order to justify violence against people of color,” Dave Newlin, a local activist with Utahns Against Police Brutality, told The Salt Lake Tribune via email.
“I see a terrified young man with his hand in the air, desperately and clearly trying to put up his other hand exactly as police have demanded,” Newlin added. “I see someone who’s trapped after running for his life, who knows that at any moment, the violent racism of Utah’s police could take his life, as indeed it does.”