Police body camera footage fuels controversy around Louisiana police shooting

Published 11:36 am Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Body camera footage shows a white Louisiana police officer fatally shooting an African American man who threatened a store clerk with a lethal-looking BB gun, prompting the man’s family to renew calls for legal action against the officer.

Video of the fatal encounter, obtained by The Associated Press, shows a short but harrowing pursuit in which Juston Landry is shot five times while running away from Officer Jonathan D. Landrum of the Lake Charles Police Department.

Landry, 26, can be heard telling the officer several times he’s carrying a BB gun. But he ignores Landrum’s repeated commands to throw the gun to the ground while darting across a highway and gas station parking lot.

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Calcasieu Parish District Attorney John DeRosier showed snippets of the body camera footage at a press conference this month in which he announced a grand jury declined to charge Landrum in the Jan. 11 shooting. The nearly nine-minute clip obtained by the AP has not previously been made public.

Derrick Kee, an attorney for Landry’s family, said the footage amounts to a “murder on camera,” adding he is considering asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the shooting. The family also intends to file a lawsuit seeking damages for Landry’s death.

“There is nowhere in America where a citizen gets to shoot someone who is that far away and running away even farther,” Kee told the AP. “It was well known in our community that Juston suffered from mental illness, and you can’t deal with the mentally ill in the same manner as other people.”

The shooting followed a 911 call in which a gas station clerk reported that Landry threatened him with a firearm. The video shows Landrum encountering Landry minutes later walking along U.S. Highway 171.

Landrum parked his police car, drew his service weapon, and began shouting, “Show me your hands!”

Landry disregarded the commands and, after running across the highway, turned in Landrum’s direction and raised what he insisted was a BB gun. Landrum told Landry to “throw it down” and opened fire as Landry continues to flee.

Landrum later told the Louisiana State Police that Landry pointed the gun in his direction. He said he believed “deadly force was needed,” a state police report says, “due to Landry’s previous threat to the store clerk, his failure to comply with commands … and the threat he felt towards himself and the public.”

Landry was shot five times: near his right ear, near his right wrist, twice in the side and once in the back, police said. He was pronounced dead at a Lake Charles hospital.

The officer was placed on administrative leave after the shooting but is expected to rejoin the force. His attorney did not return messages seeking comment.

Landrum has been with the police department more than three years and has received a number of awards. The department named him Officer of the Year in 2018, a distinction his supervisors said he deserved due to his work ethic and “intensely proactive mindset,” according to police department records.

DeRosier, the district attorney, said Landry’s BB gun was virtually indistinguishable from a Ruger 9mm, particularly “in a dimly lit area at 1 a.m.”

He stopped short of saying the body camera footage shows Landry pointing the gun directly at the policeman.

“But it shows him raising the gun and placing it in the general direction of the officer,” DeRosier said in an interview. “The officer’s eyes are better than the video. He can see a little bit more.”

A witness to the shooting, whose name was not released, told authorities Landry looked like he had something resembling a gun in his hand.

“It looked like he was getting ready to pull the trigger,” said the witness, who saw the pursuit unfold from his hotel room.

Landrum was “within his legal right” to open fire given the threat Landry posed, said Joseph Giacalone, a former New York City police detective and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

“It can be seen as reasonable at that point,” said Giacalone, who reviewed the footage at the AP’s request.

The grand jury considered several charges against Landrum but declined to indict him on any counts. The decision devastated Landry’s family, Kee said.

“It was extremely disappointing,” Kee said. “The greatest coping mechanism they have is hope.”
Landry had a long history of mental illness – including bipolar disorder – and violence toward family members and had been hospitalized several times between 2010 and 2018, according to the state police report.

DeRosier called Landry’s death a “tragic event,” saying he had been “failed” by members of the community, his own family, and the local criminal justice system, which failed to hold Landry accountable for ditching mental health court and not complying with the terms of his probation.

“It was kind of the perfect storm,” DeRosier told the AP in a telephone interview. “Only one person absolutely, positively knew that he was carrying a toy gun. Why didn’t he drop it?”