Peoria police release body camera footage 2 months after fatal shooting of Samuel Richmond
Peoria authorities are publicly releasing some materials related to the fatal shooting by police of 59-year-old Samuel "Vincent" Richmond, two months after the incident happened.
Richmond, affectionately called "Meatman" by friends and family because of his longtime job working in the East Bluff Kroger's meat department, was shot and killed by police Oct. 3 at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in south Peoria.
Peoria Police Chief Eric Echevarria named Candice Fillpot, Christopher Heaton, Danny Marx, and Andrew Fuller as the four officers involved in the incident at a news conference on Friday.
All four are on paid administrative leave pending the conclusion of an Illinois State Police investigation into the shooting, and Peoria County State's Attorney Jodi Hoos' determination on whether the lethal use of force was justified.
Heaton also was put on administrative leave following his involvement in the 2017 fatal police shooting of Eddie Russell, Jr. The state's attorney's office found the officer's actions justified in that incident.
Echevarria said the October incident began with a ShotSpotter alert at 10:06 p.m.
At 10:16 p.m., dispatchers told officers about a call in the area of Spring Hollow Lane reporting a man threatening suicide. He was described as wearing a sweatshirt and driving a gray Impala.
Echevarria showed reporters several video clips and stills from the police body camera footage, including an image he alleges shows a weapon found next to Richmond's body.
The chief said when the first officer arrived, they found a man fitting the person described in the 911 call. Echevarria then showed a still he said shows the man pointing a gun at the officer. Shots were then fired, he said.
"As more officers arrive on the scene, there is a pause in gunfire until you see, in this still image, Mr. Richmond attempting to get up, ignoring officers' commands to stay down. Gunfire continues," Echevarria said.
Echevarria played a video of that scene, and a second clip he said shows the officers approaching Richmond to perform CPR. The officers roll Richmond onto his stomach, handcuff him, and check him for weapons before performing CPR.
When asked by reporters if that was the proper procedure, Echevarria replied Richmond was pointing a gun at his officers moments before. When asked if a behavioral health worker or co-responder was called the scene, Echevarria again brought up "the image of Mr. Richmond pointing a gun at my officers," and called it a "rapidly developing situation."
The chief noted the highlighted clips didn't show the officers getting out their shields and preparing to move in toward Richmond.
Peoria County Coroner Jamie Harwood said Richmond was shot multiple times and died instantly. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Echevarria declined to answer questions about the number of shots fired and which officers fired the rounds, citing the ongoing state police investigation.
"The State Police will conduct their investigation, and we will follow up based on their investigation on what we will need to do in future," he said.
On Nov. 8, Richmond's family held a news conference demanding a transparent investigation outside city hall, ahead of a Peoria City Council meeting.
“He was shot by four police officers and we need answers. We need to know why they did it, when they did it, how they did it, and why,” Richmond’s sister told a reporter at the media event.
In a Facebook Live video posted Friday night, Richmond family spokesperson Chama St. Louis said the news conference "left more questions than answers" and said she was disappointed in the city.
The City of Peoria pushed back for weeks on releasing any materials linked to the Richmond shooting.
In an Oct. 17 denial of a WCBU reporter's Oct. 6 Freedom of Information Act request seeking video footage and police reports tied to the incident, Peoria assistant city attorney Michael Toren cited the Illinois State Police's concerns that release of the materials would obstruct their investigation or harm potential future criminal prosecutions.
The ISP said releasing the material could jeopardize testimony by allowing witnesses to collude, or prevent witnesses from coming forward before the agency's case file was submitted to the Peoria County State's Attorney's Office for review.
"Releasing the case file before the review and before formal criminal proceedings are concluded would significantly impact the outcome of the case and would deprive involved parties of their due process and fair trial," wrote Abby Sgro, Illinois State Police deputy chief legal counsel, in an email cited by Toren.
Matt Topic is a partner with the Chicago law firm Loevy & Loevy. Among other cases, Topic forced the release of the Laquan McDonald shooting video in court.
"The typical argument is, if we released the video, then it will obstruct our investigation by removing our ability to know whether what witnesses say they saw is really what they saw. They might just say they saw what was actually on the video," he said, speaking generally about his experiences on Freedom of Information Act cases.
Topic said an unfinished investigation isn't enough reason to deny a FOIA request, adding police departments must confirm with specificity how the release of video would interfere with their investigation.
Following WCBU's appeal of the FOIA denial, Public Access Bureau assistant attorney general Matthew Goodman asked Toren for unredacted copies of the records, and an explanation on how and why disclosure of the records would obstruct the ongoing investigation.
In his reply dated Nov. 21, Toren cited the filing date of WCBU's FOIA request so soon after the incident occurred. He also cited previous case law, and said Illinois State Police "provided a clear and detailed factual basis for asserting the exemptions" and reiterated the city's wish for a full denial of the records.
But at Friday's news conference, Echevarria said the situation had changed, despite the fact the investigation is still ongoing.
"We reached a point in the investigation where releasing the officer body worn camera and the 911 tapes would not negatively impact the work of the state police, and we've been in communication with the state police," Echevarria said.
At the beginning of the news conference, Peoria Mayor Rita Ali told the media it was time for an update on the case.
"As you may know, the Illinois State Police is conducting an investigation. We had hoped it would be completed by now, but it's approaching 60 days since the incident, and our community has a right to know more," she said.
Sixty days is the threshold for release of materials of most police shooting video in the city of Chicago.
"There's a policy that requires COPA, the Civilian Police Oversight Authority, to release body camera footage of any fatal officer shooting within 60 days," explained Alexandra Block, the senior supervising attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. "That's not part of the Freedom of Information Act, but it's a separate policy that has been negotiated over the years after a number of terrible police shootings of Chicago residents."
When asked if that 60-day mark cited by Ali would set a precedent for the release of information in any future incidents in Peoria, Echevarria demurred.
"Maybe not necessarily the number of 60 days. We will take every situation individually. They're not all going to be the same, so we'll have to look at them individually. But we will always cooperate and we will always be as transparent as possible," he said.
Following Friday's news conference, Toren maintained the city's stance on the FOIA denial, but also sent along copies of the video and audio publicly released on the city's website following the media event.