Community activists and the family of Marcus-David Peters, who was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer in May, are continuing to raise questions about the details surrounding his death, as well as transparency concerns.
“We as the family have had to fight, and we shouldn’t have to,” Peters’ sister, Princess Blanding, said at Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s “community office hours” at Pine Camp Community Center in North Richmond on Tuesday evening.
At the public meeting, the family questioned discrepancies in information that has been released about Peters’ death, based on a toxicology report and autopsy the family says they received from the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner. Stoney and Police Chief Alfred Durham declined to comment on the specifics of the case Tuesday night.
RPD recently completed an investigation into Peters’ death and forwarded the report to Commonwealth’s Attorney Michael Herring, who will review the report to determine whether the officer’s actions were justified or whether the response merits criminal charges.
Stoney said he wants to see that process play out and is not commenting until that review is complete.
“I don’t speak to the incident at hand because there is a role for the commonwealth's attorney to play, and some of the inconsistencies you state I think can be cleared up once the commonwealth's attorney’s office does its part,” Stoney said at Tuesday's meeting.
Durham said he doesn’t want to unduly influence any potential grand jury proceedings through public comments.
Peters, 24, was naked and unarmed when he was fatally shot by Richmond police officer Michael Nyantakyi along Interstate 95/64 after the officer attempted to deploy a Taser. He was a Henrico County resident who taught high school biology in Essex County.
Peters’ family and community activists have said Peters experienced a mental health crisis and that police should not have responded to him with lethal force. They have used the hashtag #HelpNotDeath on social media to draw attention to this message and created the group Justice and Reformation for Marcus-David Peters to call for changes in local policing.
Peters’ family says the toxicology report showed that no substances were detected in Peters.
The family also says an autopsy report has shown that Peters had three bullet wounds — two in the abdomen and one on his left arm. They say they had not been told about the gunshot to his left arm until they received the autopsy report. Police previously said Peters was shot twice, both times in the abdomen.
“Due to the toxicology report findings which ruled out the presence of multiple substances, it is obvious that Marcus-David Peters was experiencing a psychotic breakdown and mental health crisis which was verbalized by Officer Nyantakyi himself at the start of the encounter,” a sheet distributed at Tuesday's meeting says.
“The Richmond Police Department has not been transparent about the details of this case as only the two shots to the abdomen have been reported to the public and only two shots were heard in the body-worn camera footage released.”
The family is raising questions about whether Peters was shot a third time, and if so, when that shot was fired and who fired it. They are also asking about body camera footage and what footage from other officers may show.
An attempt to reach the state medical examiner's office for comment on the reports late last week was unsuccessful.
The family says it has lost confidence in the Richmond Police Department and is calling on Stoney and Durham to meet with the family in a community setting of their choosing.
In an interview after Tuesday’s meeting, Blanding said she was not convinced by Durham’s concern about potentially influencing grand jury proceedings, citing what she says has been the negative public narrative surrounding her brother’s case.
“The narrative that was put out there is deeply disturbing because Marcus was a great person,” she said.
Blanding also said she wanted to make it clear that she and her family are not anti-police.
“We have police officers in our family, but we are for accountability, very full accountability,” she said.
The group Justice and Reformation for Marcus-David Peters has issued several demands, among them being the public release of details of the Police Department’s crisis intervention training; an assessment of the training’s effectiveness by outside experts; and the creation of a “Marcus Alert” developed around a non-police crisis management team of mental health professionals to respond when a person is in a mental health crisis. There has also been a renewed demand for the creation of a democratically elected civilian review board with subpoena power.
The department appears to have responded to calls for more details on its use-of-force and crisis intervention training, when it publicly released overviews and information about such training on its website Friday.
Tuesday's meeting was the last in a series of outreach events that Stoney held in the city’s nine districts in June and July — Peters’ family and others in the community have attended the meetings in an effort to demand police accountability and reform.