Officers in Tate-Brown death cleared; protest follows
The Philadelphia police officers involved in the shooting death of Brandon Tate-Brown will not face criminal charges, District Attorney Seth Williams announced Tuesday.
The Philadelphia police officers involved in the shooting death of Brandon Tate-Brown will not face criminal charges, District Attorney Seth Williams announced Thursday.
"In this case, the facts show a tragedy, a terrible tragedy, but not a crime," Williams said at an afternoon news conference, saying his conclusion came after a three-month investigation.
An attorney for the family of the 25-year-old Frankford man said questions remained in the case and indicated he would file suit. Family members have vowed that protests in Tate-Brown's name will continue until video of his death is released to the public and the officers involved are named.
To that point, a fracas broke out Thursday night at a community meeting at the Lawncrest Rec Center, where protesters chanting "Shame on you" and "Who killed Brandon Tate-Brown?" confronted Williams and Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.
Most were quickly removed by police, some in handcuffs.
Ramsey called the disruption "embarrassing."
Tate-Brown was killed Dec. 15 during a 2:45 a.m. traffic stop in the 6600 block of Frankford Avenue in Mayfair. Police said the Dodge Charger that Tate-Brown was driving did not have its headlights on.
One of the two officers, police said, spotted a gun in Tate-Brown's car, and a struggle ensued after they asked him to leave the car.
Authorities said Tate-Brown broke away from the officers several times, and was shot as he escaped their grasp a final time and reached for the gun in the car.
His family members have contested this version of events, and reiterated Thursday that they believe video footage they saw of the incident did not show him reaching for the gun.
"He was running from a beating, not running to get a gun," his mother, Tanya Dickerson, said in an interview after her news conference, held a few hours after Williams spoke.
The protests that have accompanied the case, led by Dickerson and others, have echoed recent police killings of other black men across the country.
Unlike in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, unarmed black men killed by white police officers in Ferguson, Mo., and Staten Island, the race and identity of the officers in the Tate-Brown shooting have never been released.
And despite the insistence of Tate-Brown's family, police have maintained he was reaching for a Taurus handgun when he was killed.
After order was restored at Lawncrest Rec, Williams told the crowd that while racism exists in America, it was not a factor in this case.
"Sometimes people want to use an issue that doesn't fit - put a square peg in a round hole," he said.
In his news conference, Williams laid out the investigation's conclusion in a lengthy narrative that included blurry video of the struggle.
The summary he released, however, does not include full witness statements or an indication of how many witnesses there were. It also did not present all the videos collected for the investigation.
The district attorney said witnesses told investigators that Tate-Brown had appeared to be reaching into the car when he was shot.
Williams acknowledged that the video was of poor quality. But after examining that footage from nearby security cameras, coupled with the witnesses' testimony and physical evidence - Tate-Brown's DNA was found on the stolen Taurus handgun recovered from the car - Williams said he had determined the officers had not violated the law.
"This is not the case of an unarmed man shot while running away. It's a case of a struggle and [Tate-Brown's] attempt to get his illegal gun," Williams said.
In an interview, Ramsey said, "It's always tragic when anyone loses their life, under any circumstances at all, and that certainly can't be minimized."
He offered his condolences to Tate-Brown's mother and said he wished her well.
But he added that the officers' actions were "not improper."
They were cleared of departmental violations this year and have since returned to street duty.
Brian Mildenberg, an attorney for Tate-Brown's family, said he is not contesting Williams' decision not to file charges. But, he said, "substantial questions" remain in the case.
He said one eyewitness had told police an officer told him that Tate-Brown had been pulled over because his car matched the description of one involved in a robbery - not because his headlights were off.
"Did the car match the robbery? Were the lights off? Or was he pulled over for driving while black?" Mildenberg said.
And Mildenberg said he believed video of the shooting showed Tate-Brown was shot at the rear of his car, not the passenger side, where the gun was lodged. "How his body arrived at the passenger side, next to the open car door, is an open question in our mind," he said.
Mildenberg said he was in the "investigatory stage" of determining whether to file a civil suit, and in which court.
His "present intention," he said, is to file a lawsuit that could be amended into a wrongful-death suit once he sifts through evidence in the case.