Eighteen seconds before he was fatally shot by a Richmond police officer on May 14, Marcus-David Peters, naked and unarmed, sat straight up after rolling around the northbound lanes of Interstate 95/64 and looked directly at the officer, as if noticing him for the first time.
“I figured it out,” Peters can be heard shouting in the officer’s body camera footage, which was released by the Richmond Police Department on Friday. “I’m living the dream.”
Peters then stalked toward officer Michael Nyantakyi, cursing and threatening to kill the officer unless he put away his Taser, which was trained on Peters.
After issuing a warning, Nyantakyi, who had begun backing away from Peters, fired his Taser nine seconds into the encounter. Only one prong of the instrument hit Peters, who appeared unfazed and continued to aggressively lunge at the officer.
Nyantakyi, who has 10 years of experience with the department, then shot Peters twice in the abdomen with his service weapon. Peters stumbled after the initial impact — both shots were ultimately fatal — and then regained his footing and continued past the officer before falling into the grass a short distance away.
“It was all said and done in 18 seconds,” Police Chief Alfred Durham said during a news conference Friday after showing the footage to members of the news media. “That’s fast. That’s important.”
“I only wish we could have helped Mr. Peters,” Durham said of the 24-year-old Henrico County man who taught high school in Essex County. “Unfortunately, we could not help him that day. For that, I’m truly sorry.”
Peters’ family and other community and civil rights activists contend that more could have been done to avoid lethal force.
“Those actions were not reasonable,” said Peters’ sister Princess Blanding, who held a separate news conference after the police department’s. “If those actions were part of policies and procedures, those policies and procedures are painfully wrong.
“Regardless of what preceded, the only reason he is dead is because of the decision of that officer. Nothing justifies Marcus not being here. He will never get the opportunity to tell his side.”
Blanding, who saw the footage along with her uncle and their attorney on Wednesday, said Peters was clearly in distress, in the middle of a mental health breakdown, and in need of help.
At the RPD news conference, Durham at times grew defensive as reporters peppered him with questions about policies and procedures, many of which he rebuffed, saying they were part of the department’s criminal investigation into the shooting. He was careful not to say whether the officer’s actions were justified, as the investigation is ongoing and the final decision on whether to pursue criminal charges against the officer will lie with the city’s commonwealth’s attorney.
“I don’t have answers,” Durham said. “We want a fair and thorough investigation.”
Officers receive training on how to handle individuals with mental health issues; it’s a 40-hour course called Crisis Intervention Training. Neither Durham nor the department’s representatives would go into detail about the training. Blanding said police told the family that the training was offered three years ago and that Nyantakyi participated.
Seeming to imply that the training wasn’t adequate, Durham said: “We give 40 hours, and people expect us to get it right.”
More than two minutes transpired between the time Nyantakyi arrived on scene and the shooting. But the first 30 seconds of the footage are silent — which is typical, as body cameras constantly run and jump backward 30 seconds from the time an officer activates the camera — so it’s impossible to tell whether the officer said anything to Peters before yelling at him to stay in the vehicle, which had just crashed into trees off the interstate on-ramp after hitting other vehicles, including one on Belvidere Street that led to the police pursuit.
Nyantakyi’s raised gun was visible just nine seconds into the footage. Blanding said it’s actions like yelling and pointing the gun that “poked and pried to get things to an escalated level, as opposed to a de-escalated [one],” that makes her question whether the officer followed training.
Peters could be heard babbling incoherently and seen thrashing around in his vehicle before exiting through the car’s window feet-first. He ran directly toward traffic on the highway and into a car, which knocked him off-balance and onto the ground. He rolled and thrashed around on the interstate before noticing the police officer, who by that time had traded his gun for a Taser.
“Male seems to be mentally unstable,” Nyantakyi said into his police radio.
As reporters at the RPD news conference tried to drill down on the officer’s actions and police procedure, the police chief continued to push back.
“We’ve got to go back and find out how we ended up here,” he said.
Earlier, silent security footage from The Jefferson Hotel showed Peters, who worked there as a part-time security guard, pull into the hotel’s front valet entrance. He entered the hotel wearing a reddish shirt and pants. Peters removed his shirt in the lobby and made this way shirtless through the hotel, which appeared empty, to the security office, where he apparently argued with another employee. Footage from the exterior of the hotel showed him, by then fully naked, run around the building to the sedan he arrived in. Durham said the hotel staff found clothing on Franklin Street later that night.
No call to police was made from the hotel until 7:04 p.m., Durham said. Peters was shot at 5:37 p.m.
The hotel’s management has remained silent despite repeated requests for comment from a reporter.
As other officers arrived at the scene of the shooting, including a Virginia State Police trooper who stopped on the opposite, southbound lanes before the shooting occurred, Nyantakyi told them that they may need to use another Taser “and possibly more lethal force,” even after Peters had been shot.
At one point, seven officers surrounded Peters, who was still moving and grabbed one of the officers. Durham said the officers were trying to render aid, but in the video, they appear to handcuff him after yelling for Peters to roll onto his stomach, then drag him by the arms a few feet.
An ambulance arrived nearly five minutes after Peters was shot. He was taken to VCU Medical Center, where he died a few hours later.
“I’m extremely appalled that Chief Durham attempted to defend the actions of the officer who killed my brother,” Blanding said. “The body camera footage released by the Richmond Police Department today confirmed what I already knew: Marcus was unarmed, clearly in distress and in need of help.”
Blanding said there were alternatives to using a gun, such as pepper spray or hand-to-hand combat.
“The footage answered some of my questions but spurred hundreds more,” Blanding said. “Furthermore, this entire situation really has me wondering: Who are police trained to help? Who are they serving and protecting? Themselves?”
Peters’ family is planning to hold a community meeting that they’re calling “Demanding Justice for Marcus Peters: A Speak-Out and Rally” on Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at Second Baptist Church, 1400 Idlewood Ave. A march is also scheduled for June 2 from the Siegel Center at Virginia Commonwealth University, where Peters graduated with honors in 2016, to the Richmond Police Department’s headquarters on West Grace Street.