Friday, September 25, 2015

Wilmington Releases Race of Police Officers in Shooting of Disabled African American
Jeremy Bam McDole gunned down by cops.
Jessica Masulli Reyes and Jenna Pizzi,
The News Journal 7:02 p.m. EDT
September 25, 2015

Investigators from the Delaware Department of Justice and Wilmington Police are continuing to piece together what led four officers – three white and one Hispanic – to shoot to death a black man in a wheelchair on Wednesday.

City police say Jeremy “Bam” McDole was armed and reaching for a gun when the officers opened fire, but McDole’s family has denied he had a gun, pointing to a cellphone video posted to YouTube where one is not visible.

McDole, 28, was killed in the 1800 block of Tulip St. after the four officers shot him several times. City officials have not identified the officers, but confirmed their races on Friday. All remain on administrative leave.

At least six investigators from Attorney General Matt Denn’s office were at the scene Friday, two of whom examined a shed in the parking lot of a gas station that backs up to the corner of Tulip and South Lincoln streets. Other investigators focused further down the street.

As the investigators searched, a makeshift memorial stood on the spot of the shooting, marked by yellow cones that have “bam” and “rip” scrawled on them. The cones, which occasionally get knocked down by the wind, are surrounded by candles, beer cans, stuffed animals, flowers and balloons.

News of the shooting has garnered international attention – topping CNN and other media’s home pages on Friday. Despite the attention, few details have been released.

Wilmington Police spokeswoman Andrea Janvier declined Friday to answer questions, including ones about the number of shots fired, what preceded what is seen on the video and the officers’ names.

Depending on how the investigation progresses over the weekend, the department may be able to provide more information Monday, she said.

Robert Bovell, a Hilltop resident who has been with the family since the shooting, said he and McDole’s family are upset that city police haven’t given more details.

“We are all unhappy,” Bovell said. “We just want to examine the facts of what happened.”

Much of the public information about the shooting has come from a cellphone video that shows one officer pointing a shotgun at McDole, screaming at him to “drop the gun.” Other officers are later heard screaming, “Hands up.”

McDole, who was paralyzed from the waist down, fidgets, moving his legs with his hands and rubbing his knees with both hands, and tries to raise himself out of the wheelchair. He is then seen sliding his hand up his thigh and toward his waist as officers open fire.

Police have said they responded to a 911 call at 3 p.m. Wednesday about a man with a self-inflicted wound who was armed. The chief said police found a .38-caliber gun at McDole’s side after the shooting.

Officials have assured the public that their investigations are ongoing.

The Department of Justice’s Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust is conducting its investigation separate from the Wilmington police, as is standard after a police shooting.

The office, which has two attorneys and three investigators, was created within the Department of Justice after Denn took office earlier this year.

“The Office of Civil Rights and Public Trust conducts investigations of police shooting incidents in order to determine whether the officer or officers were in compliance with Delaware law,” spokesman Carl Kanefsky said. “That determination, which could result in criminal charges, is made solely within the Attorney General’s Office.”

Kanefsky said investigators work both separately and with the police agency after a police-involved shooting.

The police department and Department of Justice will both respond to the scene, observe the autopsy and observe interviews. Other activities, however, are done separately, such as seeking and interviewing witnesses, examining the scene and reviewing evidence.

The results will be released publicly and posted to the Department of Justice website when they are complete, he said. These investigations can often take several months to finish.

The Department of Justice took more than six months to clear the Wilmington officers who shot Marvin T. Jones, a Georgia man paralyzed by police during a traffic stop on Vandever Avenue in January.

Neither Wilmington Police nor the Department of Justice have released details about what led up to and followed Wednesday’s shooting.

Jon Shane, a retired captain from the Newark Police Department and associate professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said it appears the officers involved in McDole’s death were justified in their use of force, because they believed at the moment that he was armed and that he was able to use the gun because of the 911 call that he had shot himself.

“The less information officers have, they have the right to draw some inferences,” Shane said. “They treat every gun as loaded until they find out it is not, and every gun as real until they find out it is fake.”

Shane said the video raises many questions about the incident, but said if the matter goes to court, the officers will likely be able to prove that use of force was justified.

“The law is pretty clear on how you can use force,” Shane said. “You have to be in fear for your life or for the life of a third person and you have to be able to articulate what those fears are.”

Shane said the officers, because of their training or because they have a different vantage point than seen in the bystander video, may have seen something different that presented a real threat.

“These things are always delicate,” Shane said. “There are not many police shootings where people believe the police account unless it is so clear – and they never really are.”

Maria Haberfeld, professor and chair of the department of law, police science and criminal justice administration at John Jay College, said officers are trained not to see anyone as less of a threat because of their appearance or disability. Therefore, these officers would not have approached McDole differently than someone not seated in a wheelchair.

“There are plenty of what police call war stories where somebody who appeared to be completely benign or not a threat pulls out a gun or knife and kills an officer,” Haberfeld said. “I’ve seen many departments training use of force around the concept of unusual suspects.”

Haberfeld said it is an ABC of police training to identify the threat no matter if the person is old, young, able-bodied or disabled.

“It is about the final outcome, whether you are 80 years old, 8 years old or in a wheelchair, the outcome is the only consideration here,” Haberfeld said.

Officers are trained to leave distance between themselves and suspects they believe to be dangerous, therefore it would have gone against training to go behind McDole to subdue him.

“Your training is not to be a kung fu master and wrestle someone to the ground like that,” Shane said. “You don’t want to put yourself in a situation where you have to use force because you don’t have distance on your side.”

McDole’s mother has said her son did not have a gun. Pastor Ty Johnson, who has been close to the family since the incident, said they continue to hold that belief, despite what police have said.

Johnson said the family, which is making arrangements to bury McDole, is still processing the incident but hopes to look closely and analyze any evidence they can.

“We certainly want to wait and find out,” Johnson said.

McDole’s mother, Phyllis, raised concerns Thursday that she was never notified that her son had been killed or where his body was taken after the incident.

“They never notified me where his body was,” she said. “They have yet to come and tell me anything. I had to call them this morning and find my own child, my own child laying in a morgue.”

She said when she was able to see him Thursday, he was wrapped from the neck down.

“They just let me see his face; that was all,” she said. “I wanted to see how many gun wounds, where he was shot. Nothing. They had already opened my son up, already split his body open and took out what they wanted to take out.”

Kimberly H. Chandler, a spokeswoman for the Delaware Department of Safety and Homeland Security, said in an email to The News Journal on Friday that autopsies are usually performed the same day as the death or the next day.

“Families do not get to view the body before an exam, unless it is needed for identification purposes only,” she said.

Chandler added that autopsies are performed in any death that is “sudden, unexplained or violent.”

Gov. Jack Markell attended a vigil Thursday night outside McDole’s mother’s home. His office released the following statement Friday:

“I had the opportunity to meet with relatives of Jeremy McDole yesterday, including his mother, grandmother and sister, during the vigil held in his honor and to offer my sincere condolences for their loss. The vigil was peaceful and somber, arranged by a community in mourning. I am grateful the Attorney General’s Office has taken swift action to review the details of the case and await the results of its investigation.”

The family is still working to set up a fund to accept donations to go toward funeral expenses.

The Wilmington Police Department asks that anyone with information about the incident contact Detective Sergeant George Pigford at (302) 576-3674 or

The Department of Justice asks anyone with information about the incident to call Special Investigator Frank Robinson at (302) 577-8707.

Reporter Esteban Parra contributed to this report. Contact Jessica Masulli Reyes at (302) 324-2777, or Twitter @JessicaMasulli. Contact Jenna Pizzi at or (302) 324-2837. Follow her on Twitter @JennaPizzi.

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