Recently, a staggering number of disturbing videos, showing fatal encounters between citizens and law enforcement officers, have reached public awareness. And on Monday, yet another example surfaced: The fatal police shooting of 41-year-old Gilbert Flores in San Antonio, Texas on August 28. It's a harrowing scene. It can be hugely traumatic to see people killed on video — so if you don't want to watch the Flores shooting, but you still want to know what it shows, here's a description.
According to local ABC affiliate KSAT, which released the video for public viewing, it was filmed by a bystander named Michael Thomas. Thomas told CNN that he decided to record the encounter between Flores and a pair of deputies — identified by KSAT as Robert Sanchez and Greg Vasquez — because of other recent, high-profile instances of police shootings.
And what he ended up capturing, even from such a great distance, has sparked a ton of outcry. According to the authorities, police were dispatched due to a domestic violence call about Flores, and the video represents the final stages of the encounter. Bexar County Sheriff Susan Pamerleau has stated that the full interaction with Flores lasted at least 20 minutes, but the footage picks up nearly one minute before he's killed.
When the video starts, a shirtless Flores can be seen moving away from the pair of officers, cutting from a front yard onto the sidewalk. The officers are following at a considerable distance, and it's not a high-speed chase by any means. Flores never once appears to break into more than a light, brief jog, while the officers walk after him.
As the officers approach, Flores briefly vanishes behind a police vehicle, before emerging back into frame with his arms outstretched at his sides. He then drops his arms, turns his back to the officers and walks back behind the police vehicle, out of frame. The pair move in closer, and when Flores returns to view from behind the vehicle, he seemingly puts both arms in the air. His left arm is obscured by a telephone pole — again, this is being filmed from well over a street away — but judging by the lifting of his right arm, the movement of his torso, and the barely visible edge of his left shoulder, it strongly appears as though he lifted both.
Two seconds later, Flores is shot, and falls to the ground.
From when he first enters frame to when he's shot, neither officer ever appear to be within arm's reach of him — they're closest to him right before the gunfire, and he's still standing on the sidewalk, while the officers are positioned in the street.
Bexar County officials have since stated that a second video of the encounter exists. According to the county's District Attorney, Nico LaHood, the second angle gives a "very clear view" of the incident. However, it has not yet been released to the public.
On Wednesday, Sheriff Pamerleau told the media that they believe Flores was holding a knife in his obscured left hand, and that the second video was being enhanced to determine if that's true. Hopefully, if and when the other footage is released, it will help clear up any confusion on this point.
As the New York Daily News detailed, Pamerleau was unable to confirm if a knife had been retrieved from the crime scene. Obviously, it's impossible to draw an informed conclusion from this alone — "not confirming" something is not the same as denying it. But had Flores been brandishing a knife when he was shot, with two officers on the scene, it's fair to think that the weapon would've been collected.
For his part, LaHood has urged restraint and a delay in passing judgment, pending a full review of the available evidence. Whlle he acknowledged that the countrywide tumult over incidents of police violence have put Flores' death at center stage, he also encouraged people to "pump the brakes":
Our oath is to seek justice. If getting it right is holding these deputies accountable I'm going to do it … Before I make a decision I need all the evidence first.