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Bill Kirby Jr.: Councilman, activists question police account of handcuffed man’s death

City Council calls for release of video of man police say shot himself while in custody

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Inquiring minds, you’ve heard before, want to know, and freshman City Councilman Mario Benavente is one of those inquiring minds.

He’s not alone.

So does Mayor Mitch Colvin, Mayor Pro Tem Johnny Dawkins and council members Shakeyla Ingram, D.J. Haire, Brenda McNair, Courtney Banks-McLaughlin and Deno Hondros.

“I'd like to ask that we direct our staff to take the appropriate measures and seeking out release of body cam footage as it relates to an incident involving the shooting of Mr. Artis,” Benavente was saying at the outset of the City Council meeting Monday at City Hall about the apparent suicide of Lawrence Artis, 29, who police say fatally shot himself on Oct. 2 while in police custody near the 6900 block of Cliffdale Road.

Artis died Oct. 6 at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, according to a Facebook post  by his mother and confirmed Tuesday in a news release from the Fayetteville Police Department stating that Artis died at 11:39 p.m. per an autopsy conducted by the state’s chief medical examiner. A funeral is scheduled at noon Saturday, according to Artis’ obituary.

Police say Artis was detained on Oct. 2 after officers responded to a SpotShotter alert of gunshots, and where officers say in a news release they discovered that Artis was a convicted felon in possession of a firearm.

Here’s where the story becomes somewhat capricious.

During a second search, according to a Police Department news release, Artis was handcuffed, with his hands behind his back. But, according to the release, Artis reached for a second firearm concealed in his pants pocket and fatally wounded himself.

Officers, according to the news release, immediately initiated life-saving measures and requested medical assistance for the wounded Artis, who was transported by an aircraft to a hospital in critical condition. Officers Justin DeHaan, Trent Folk and Ryan Hirschi, according to the FPD, currently are on administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation by the  N.C. State Bureau of Investigation requested by the Police Department.

Not buying it

Benavente, 33,  isn’t buying into the police account of the shooting. Apparently, neither is the mayor, the mayor pro tem and five other council members, with the exception of Councilwoman Kathy Keefe Jensen, who voted against review of police body camera footage, and Councilman Derrick Thompson, who did not participate in Monday’s council meeting because of the death of his mother.

Jensen said Tuesday that while she is not against the release of the body camera footage, a vote in favor would have meant she would have had to vote for other items on Monday’s consent agenda, including a vote to appoint Richard King to the Fayetteville Public Works Commission when she favored another candidate. Jensen also said she would have preferred waiting at least a week to request release of the body camera footage out of respect for Artis’ mother

Others aren’t buying into the police account, either.

“I'd also like to call on the council to launch a full investigation as to the in-custody death of Lawrence Artis,” Shaun McMillan told the council during Monday’s public forum. “According to police reports and initial media reports, he shot himself a week ago while handcuffed in police custody. We need transparency and accountability to include a full accounting and update of his death to the public.”

McMillan urged council members to recall the Sept. 12, 2019, death of Joshua Oxendine, 34, who died after being detained by officers on Ramsey Street “just to look at what corruption and cover-up looks like.”

“We should not repeat the mistakes of the past,” McMillan told the council. “CityView reported that Mr. Artis  succumbed to his injuries and passed away on Friday, Oct. 6. The community has been waiting for an update on his status since last Monday. We expected that update to come from the FPD. Chief (Kimberle) Braden, we expected you to show Lawrence Artis, his family, his friends the same dignity that you showed to folks who passed away after initial reports of hospitalization. We expected transparency, but unfortunately, this city time and time again is showing an aversion to honesty and transparency.”

Angela Malloy called for transparency, too.

“We just had an incident in our community that once again involved our Fayetteville Police Department under the leadership of Chief Braden,” Malloy told the council. “Transparency is what's needed and what happened was the result of the death of a handcuffed individual in police custody.

“Transparency means that when there is an officer-involved shooting or shooting in police custody that there are protocols in place to provide the community with timely, accurate unbiased information that isn't phrased in a narrative of influencing the details involving the officers.

“Transparency in this most recent incident means to make sure that the scene is secure,” Malloy said. “That evidence is collected properly to give a full picture of what happened that doesn't solely rely on officer accounts. It means that the officers’ hands were tested for gunpowder. It means that their guns were immediately seized for testing to see if any of them were fired. It means that the victim’s gun is tested for residue and fingerprints because that shows that the full picture is being sought and not a biased one.”

Epilogue

Inquiring minds want to know, and in the case of Councilman Mario Benavente and the majority of the council, they want to see for themselves what the police body cams tell us about Oct. 2, when police say Lawrence Artis shot himself while handcuffed with his hands behind his back.

The bottom line here is that Benavente, as well as McMillan and Malloy, are suspicious of what the Fayetteville Police Department is saying about the death of  Lawrence Artis and how it played out. Some of us concur that police body cam should be released. That may not be unreasonable, but the City Council is not the judge nor is it the jury. Otherwise, at least for now, we only can await what the State Bureau of Investigation has to say about the death of Lawrence Treyshoun Artis.

Bill Kirby Jr. can be reached at billkirby49@gmail.com or 910-624-1961.

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Fayetteville, body cam footage, police investigation, city council, shooting while in custody

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