The fatal shooting of a wheelchair-bound man by Wilmington police is being investigated by a new unit within the Delaware attorney general's office that was established to help instill public trust in government, but the state NAACP is calling for an independent investigation by a special prosecutor.
Authorities say Jeremy McDole, 28, was shot Wednesday afternoon after police responded to a 911 call about man who had shot himself and was still armed with a handgun.
Police Chief Bobby Cummings said Thursday that McDole, who was left paralyzed by a shooting 10 years ago, failed to obey officers' commands to show his hands and put his weapon down, and that he was shot as he began to remove the gun from his waist.
Cummings said he did not know if McDole pointed the gun at any of the four officers, "but when he went to remove the weapon, they engaged him."
Video of the shooting posted online, which the chief said appeared to be authentic, shows an officer approaching McDole with a gun drawn, shouting "show me your hands" and "drop the gun." Other officers then appear in the video with their guns drawn, yelling similar commands.
McDole moves around in his wheelchair and reaches into his jeans, but it's unclear from the video what he is doing. The officers, who are not in the video at this point, fire multiple shots and McDole falls out of his wheelchair.
Cummings said he was not aware of any attempt by officers to use nonlethal force before shooting McDole, who was black. He also would not say whether he thought the situation should have been handled differently.
"Only our thorough investigation will reveal that," noted Cummings, who said he didn't know whether McDole was depressed or suicidal, or why he might have shot himself. Police said they recovered a .38 caliber handgun next to McDole's body.
The shooting is being investigated by the police department's criminal investigation and professional standards units, as well as the Delaware Department of Justice's Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust, which will determine whether any officers will be charged. The state agency investigates all police shootings that result in injury or death.
Former Lt. Gov. Matt Denn formed the civil rights and public trust unit in January after succeeding the late Beau Biden as attorney general. Among the new unit's responsibilities is conducting investigations where the Department of Justice's other responsibilities might present the appearance of a conflict, such as investigations of use of force by law enforcement officers.
But while praising Denn for doing a good job as attorney general, Richard Smith, head of the Delaware chapter of the NAACP, said he did not trust the state Justice Department to conduct a fair and impartial investigation. He cited the results of its previous investigations into police shootings that resulted in injury or death.
"There's been so many shootings, and every time it comes out it was a justified shooting. We cannot continue having all our folks being shot and nobody held accountable," said Smith, who met with Denn on Thursday. ".... Every time there was a shooting, it came back justified shooting. Everything can't be justified."
A DOJ spokesman declined to respond to Smith's call for a special prosecutor.
"As with other police-involved shootings, this will be investigated by the Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust," spokesman Carl Kanefsky said in an email.
Meanwhile, Gov. Jack Markell, whom Denn served as lieutenant governor, joined Smith on Thursday night to visit McDole's family and to express his condolences.
"I have a lot of confidence in the attorney general," Markell said when asked about the NAACP's demand for a special prosecutor.
At the same time, Markell described the video of the police shooting as "troubling."
"I think it's troubling for everybody who sees it," the governor said.
McDole's mother, Phyllis McDole, has decried her son's shooting as "unjust."
"He was in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down," she said. "There's video showing that he didn't pull a weapon ... I need answers," she said.
McDole has an arrest record that dates back at least to 2005, the same year he was left paralyzed after being shot in the back by a friend with whom he had been walking around a neighborhood, smoking marijuana, according to court documents. He has convictions for drug possession and disorderly conduct, but other charges, including carrying a concealed deadly weapon and resisting arrest, have been dropped. In November, McDole was found to have violated his probation.
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