A New Orleans man shot dead by police, and it was all caught on tape. Officers opened fire after the victim repeatedly refused to drop his knife. Police say they felt threatened, despite surrounding the man and trying to subdue him with pepper spray. This is the first deadly shooting since New Orleans reopened in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In just a few moments, I will talk to the man who shot that very dramatic videotape.
Chief Warren Riley broke his silence for the first time and spoke to Jane Velez-Mitchell on Tuesday about the tragic events.
To read an excerpt from their conversation, continue to the text below. To watch the video, click on the "Launch" button to the right.
JANE VELEZ-MITCHELL, GUEST HOST: I guess a lot of people are simply wondering why this man had to die. Why didn't the police just incapacitate him?
CHIEF WARREN RILEY, NEW ORLEANS POLICE DEPARTMENT: Why didn't we incapacitate him?
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Shoot him in the leg, for example.
RILEY: Well, I think our officers gave him every opportunity and every option to put the weapon down. We used force other than our weapons, as it relates to using the mace, which had no effect on the subject. Officers were extremely patient, giving him verbal instructions numerous times, until the person actually raised the knife and lunged at a police officer, at which time he was shot.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Well, I don't want to sound like I'm second guessing because it's easy to ask questions sitting in a chair here. You're out there in the field. A lot of people are wondering why not shoot him in the leg, or for example, taser guns? I understand that your department, the officers do not carry taser guns. Why not?
RILEY: Well, first in answer to your question about shooting him in the leg I think, nationally, the vast majority of federal, as well as state and local law enforcement agencies train to shoot to for center mass. It is simply done because, historically, it has been proven, if you go back 20 years, where officers have, in fact, shot people in the arm or in the leg and the officer was subsequently killed by that same person. Actually, we're trained to shoot for center mass. We're trained to incapacitate the person, to reduce their ability to inflict any additional harm on anyone.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, this video looks like there are so many officers there. We've gotten a lot of conflicting reports. How many officers were there exactly? How many shots were fired? How many officers fired those shots? And what's happened to the officers who actually fired?
RILEY: Well, we had 16 police officers on the scene. Three police officers fired their weapons. Nine rounds were actually fired at the subject.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: So what's happened to the officers who fired the rounds?
RILEY: Well, those three officers have been reassigned, pending the investigation, an internal review.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Now, if do you an internal review, could you change your mind and decide, Hey, they didn't have to do this, and could they be disciplined?
RILEY: Certainly. I mean, that's what the investigation is for. It is to determine if the officers did, in fact, do everything that was necessary prior to using deadly force. Was the action necessary at the time? And that's what the investigation will reveal. But our preliminary indications, based on the video that you all saw and the account of numerous witnesses, numerous witnesses who have come forward, stating the police did everything that they could and that that subject left them no choice.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: Chief, what's the morale and what's the mentality of the officers on your force right now? Obviously, this is a city in crisis, and they are in crisis, as well. They're people, and they're suffering through the stress, as well.
RILEY: Well, I think the morale — all things considered, that things are going relatively well. Our morale is good. You know, you have some officers that you can see little effect. Things are very good for them. Then we have some officers that are not as upbeat as some. But you know, we all suffered different amounts of disruption in our lives, as it relates to our homes, finances and family. I mean, this catastrophe is far beyond what anybody who's not here can imagine.
VELEZ-MITCHELL: It certainly is. And I have to raise a troubling question. We all know that the New Orleans Police Department has sort of a history, a reputation of excessive force and corruption. And during Hurricane Katrina, some of the officers left their posts. And then there was this other beating that happened in the wake of Katrina, that one you're looking at right now. And there were officers who were fired. What's going on with the New Orleans Police Department? Do changes need to be made?
RILEY: Well, you know, what's going on in New Orleans is not unique to any urban police force. We all have times such as this. I mean, you can go back a few years ago, when it was New York. You can go back to when LA had their problems, and other places. It's not unique to a urban city. It's how we deal with them and how we correct issues that are negative.
When you look at the Bourbon Street incident, we took swift and decisive action.
It was clear that something had to be done to change that and to change the mindset. NOPD is going in a new and a positive direction. We are encouraging our officers to be as professional and as courteous as possible. However, if you look around this country, numerous major cities have buried police officers over the last four weeks. I mean, I think you all are aware of that. And certainly, this situation, had an officer attempted, to tackle this gentleman, who was a very large gentleman, we could have had an officer seriously injured.
But every option was given to Mr. Hayes. I feel sorry for his family. But I also feel sorry for the police officers who have to go through this and their families who have to deal with this, as well.
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