A City Council member called for more police training Tuesday as the district attorney again cleared Durham police of wrongdoing in the fatal shooting of a city resident.
“We have to do more to make sure we don’t kill folks in this situation if it can at all be helped,” Councilman Charlie Reece said.
Reece was responding to Durham County District Attorney Roger Echols’ announcement that he won’t file criminal charges in the fatal shooting of La’Vante Trevon Biggs, 21, in September.
“The events of September 5, 2015, were extremely unfortunate and undoubtedly tragic,” Echols said in a statement. “However, there is no evidence in the State Bureau of Investigation’s investigative file that rises to willful, malicious or criminally negligent conduct by law enforcement or that the use of force by law enforcement was unreasonable or excessive.”
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Now that Echols has released his decision, Reece said, the city must review police training and resources to take preventive measures.
In 2013, police shot and killed two men.
▪ Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, a suspect in a stabbing, was shot four times after police yelled at him to put a knife down when he pulled it from his back pocket.
▪ Derek Walker, upset about losing custody of his son, was shot after he pointed a gun at police and himself during a standoff downtown.
Police say Biggs was suicidal and holding a weapon when police responded to 911 calls from him and his mother in the 1700 block of Angier Avenue.
Biggs put the gun down three times, but officers could not get him to walk away from it.
“Immediately before the shooting, La’Vante raised the gun at shoulder level towards officers while he took one to three steps forward,” Echols’ statement said. “After those actions by La’Vante, four officers fired a total of twelve shots at La’Vante.”
Biggs’ weapon turned out to be a black plastic airsoft-type pellet gun.
“However, the outer appearances of the gun appear to be visually indistinguishable from a firearm without very close or physical inspection,” Echols’ statement said.
In April, the Durham Branch of the NAACP and Biggs’ mother, Shanika Biggs, said police grossly mismanaged the situation and Biggs’ death could have been prevented.
Police recklessly fired 12 shots, five of which hit her son, the NAACP and Biggs said. Another six shots went into an occupied house behind him.
The NAACP and Shanika Biggs also questioned whether the police responded appropriately to someone in a mental health crisis, and asked why a tactical unit trained to use non-lethal weapons wasn’t present. The department has pepperballs, sponge balls and bean bags for certain crisis situations, but these are only carried by the tactical unit, not patrol officers. The tactical unit was on its way, police have said. Shanika Biggs and the NAACP point out that her son was shot 50 minutes after she made the 911 call.
In response to questions about the tactical unit’s response time, police spokesman Wil Glenn wrote, “each police response is unique.” He didn’t respond to further questions about the process.
Less-lethal weapons are designed to stun or disable someone and are considered “paincompliance weapons,” he wrote. They can be used in response to barricade or hostage rescue situations.
“If someone is mentally disturbed, stressed or under the influence, pain compliance isn’t really a factor – or isn’t as much a factor as it normally would be,” he wrote. “In these instances, less-lethal weapons aren’t very effective.”
Shanika Biggs declined to comment on Echols’ decision Tuesday beyond saying there will be a gathering to remember her son at 6:30 p.m. May 28 – the day La’Vante Biggs would have turned 22 – at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham.
“That is my only focus, to get through his birthday,” she said.