West Valley City, Utah – Video has been released showing the officer-involved shooting of Elijah Smith, after he broke into a house with children inside (video below.)
The shooting has been pushed as an “unarmed black man” who was shot after taking his hands out of his pocket as officers told him, but the video shows that this is not true.
The incident started at around 3:30 p.m. on April 8, when Smith allegedly stole from a cell phone store near 3400 South on Redwood Road, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
Officers were pursuing Smith, and he broke into a home where he was confronted by the homeowner. The homeowner confronted Smith and told him to leave, and he did.
Two cell phones were later recovered from that home, but police have not confirmed if they were the phones stolen from the cell phone store.
An officer saw Smith leave and go into another house, which was occupied by three children, – ages 9, 10 and 13 – according to The Salt Lake Tribune. There were no adults home at the time.
The bodycam video starts when the officers arrived and the door was answered by the 13-year-old, who told officers that, “There’s some, some guy here.”
Officers entered the home and confronted Smith as he hid in the garage. The officers repeatedly ordered Smith to show his hands, and he raised his left hand while appearing to stick his right hand in his pocket.
The officers ordered Smith numerous times to show his hands. Then Smith took his hand out of his pocket, pulled up the bottom of his hooded sweatshirt, and then reached back down.
An officer fired three times, and one of the bullets fatally struck Smith.
The police department said that a “modified” screwdriver was found on scene which they believe Smith had in his pocket, but they did not say how it was modified.
After the shooting, the narrative started that he was shot while complying with officers’ commands.
“I see a terrified young man with his hand in the air, desperately and clearly trying to put up his other hand exactly as police have demanded. I see someone who is trapped after running for his life, who knows that at any moment, the violent racism of Utah’s police could take his life, as indeed it does,” Dave Newlin with Utahns Against Police Brutality, wrote, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.
However, the bodycam video shows that officers had every reason to believe that Smith was drawing a weapon.
Smith originally came out from hiding with his hands outside of his pockets.
After he was ordered at least 10 times to show his hands, he put his right hand into his pocket, while raising his left hand. This initial act of doing the opposite of what officers told him is clearly a cause for concern.
Then, Smith began to pull his hand up and along his body. This movement is indicative of drawing a weapon, because rather than just clearing his pocket and putting his hands up, he rode his hand up his side to a high position, which is generally needed to clear a weapon from a waistband.
Even then, the officers did not shoot. Video shows that Smith had pulled his hooded sweatshirt away from his waistband, in a move commonly associated with clearing a waistband to gain access to a weapon. The video is not clear, but it appears that there may have been an object in Smith’s hand at that time.
Even then, officers didn’t shoot, and Smith would have lived if he kept raising his hands. Instead, Smith suddenly reached his hand back down towards his waistband. This occurred after Smith had already raised his hand to chest level.
Smith was not actually armed with a firearm, although the screwdriver could be used as a deadly weapon. However, whether he was actually armed is largely irrelevant.
The law does not care if Smith was armed or not. What matters is if it was reasonable for officers to believe that Smith posed an immediate deadly threat.
By law, the reasonableness of the shooting must be considered from the perspective of officers at the scene, considering their training and experience, and cannot be judged in hindsight.
A trained officer would have recognized Smith’s motion as the same motion to draw a weapon, and Smith sealed his fate when he suddenly reached back for his waistband.
However, Smith’s family is calling the shooting a case of excessive force.
“The reason why we run, especially the black people, is because we are afraid,” Smith’s grandfather told KSTU. “We know what you’re going to do when you catch us. Our life is gone.”
You can see the video of the shooting below. WARNING – Graphic Content: