A tech entrepreneur in Texas wasn’t given ample time to drop a rifle he was carrying on his own front porch before he was fatally shot by police last month, his devastated family told NBC News.
Rajan “Raj” Moonesinghe, 33, had returned from a trip and suspected his home had been burglarized during the early-morning hours of Nov. 15. That’s when he held a rifle outside his front door and was encountered by an Austin police officer who quickly shot him while almost simultaneously ordering Moonesinghe to drop the gun, relatives said.
In an exclusive interview on Thursday, Moonesinghe’s mother, Ruth, and brother, Johann, said they were heartbroken and demanded answers from Austin police as to why their loved one was killed so quickly before being given a reasonable amount of time to drop the weapon.
“He did nothing wrong,” Johann Moonesinghe said. “He had a gun … he was defending his house and he didn’t point the gun. He was not menacing. He didn’t look like he was going to shoot anyone.”
Moonesinghe said his brother got a rifle to protect himself and there had been recent crimes in the area.
“He called his friend and he said I think something’s been moved around my house. Something strange is going on.”
'Thank you for being this amazing gift'
Ruth Moonesinghe described her son, the co-founder of a restaurant consulting business, as an "amazing gift" to her and many others.
"I just wanted to hold him … and say, ‘I love him. Thank you for being this amazing gift that I had,''' she said. "I’m just sad. I wasn’t there because … that shouldn’t have happened to him."
Austin police said in a statement the deadly shooting occurred about 12:30 a.m.
They said a 911 caller told a dispatcher that a man in a gray robe and dark pants was pointing a rifle down the street.
The caller also said the man was pointing his rifle at the interior of his home, police said. The caller then stated the man just fired into his own home. The caller said the police were on scene and the man fired again, police said.
Police identified the officer who fired at Moonesinghe as Daniel Sanchez, who is now on administrative leave.
“Officer Sanchez was the first to observe Mr. Moonesinghe and gave him a verbal command to drop the gun. Immediately after telling Mr. Moonesinghe to drop the gun, Officer Sanchez fired his Department approved firearm at Mr. Moonesinghe. Mr. Moonesinghe was struck and fell to the ground,” police said.
Two other officers initially responded to the call. One of those officers ordered Moonesinghe to show his hands after he was shot.
“The officers immediately began life-saving measures,” police said. Moonesinghe died at a local hospital, police said.
Sanchez has been with the department for two years and nine months, police said. They said two investigations into the shooting are ongoing.
One is a criminal investigation by the department’s Special Investigations Unit in conjunction with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office. The second is an administrative investigation conducted by the department’s Internal Affairs Unit, with oversight from the Office of Police Oversight.
'The officer followed his training'
Sanchez could not be immediately reached for comment Friday. A statement from lawyers with the Combined Law Enforcement Association of Texas, or CLEAT, said Sanchez followed police protocol.
“CLEAT attorneys responded to an incident on November 15th involving one of our members. We are representing the Austin Police Officer and believe it’s important to recognize that while this event is a tragedy, the officer followed his training in an effort to protect lives,” the statement said.
Evidence released by police on Thursday — including a 911 call to police, a Ring camera video from Moonesinghe’s home and body camera footage from officers — shed additional light into the deadly encounter.
The two-minute Ring video shows Moonesinghe carrying the rifle outside his home while walking toward the street. He appears to briefly hold up the rifle before turning around and walking toward his front door and pointing the rifle.
He appears to say, “Yep, you want this?” Several seconds pass and then Moonesinghe says, “Are you sure?” “Oh my God, you’re f------ stupid. You’re f------ stupid.”
He then points the rifle toward the doorway and a loud gunshot is heard while a police car passes in the background of the video. A second police car then passes. A second shot is heard while Moonesinghe is not in view of the camera, according to the video.
He then comes into view of the camera and is walking on his porch when what sounds like “drop the gun” is shouted, and nearly simultaneously multiple shots are heard on the video.
Moonesinghe then drops to the ground and shouts, “It wasn’t me.” He then yells an expletive, the video shows. “Subject is down, hands are up” is heard on the video.
Moonesinghe again appears to say, “It wasn’t me.”
According to the video, an officer then appears to shout, “Show us your hands. Do it now.”
Moonesinghe again shouts, “It wasn’t me.”
Video from Sanchez’s body camera shows the officer exiting his vehicle with what appears to be a rifle. He shouts "drop the gun" and then fires three rounds followed by two others.
'He almost seems to be scared of something'
In the 911 audio, a caller is heard telling the dispatcher a man was outside with a rifle and “pointing it down the street.” During the six-minute call, the caller also tells the dispatcher the man was later standing at the doorway of his home with the rifle at a “low-ready” position.
The dispatcher asked if the man appeared to be drunk or on drugs. The caller said he was too steady to be drunk but couldn’t say about drugs. The dispatcher asked if the man had mental issues, and the caller said: "Considering how paranoid he’s acting, he might be.”
The caller added, “He almost seems to be scared of something inside of his home. … It looks like he’s pointing the rifle at the interior of his home.”
The caller then alerts the dispatcher that the man fired the rifle.
He tells the dispatcher police have arrived and then says, “He fired again.”
CORRECTION (Dec. 2, 2022, 7:37 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the first name of the brother of the man shot by police. He is Johann, not Rohann, Moonesinghe