Family members of a man fatally shot by police officers in Inwood last weekend are pressing for the release of body camera footage capturing the moments leading up to the man's death.
In a press conference Friday, the mother of 29-year-old Joel Capellan — who was killed during an encounter with police officers early Sunday morning — called for the release of footage she hopes will produce answers on the circumstances that led to her son’s death. Police said that Capellan was holding a gun that he failed to drop, despite instructions by officers.
But Capellan’s family has cast their doubts over police reports so far. Standing outside the 34th Precinct in Washington Heights on Friday, Capellan’s mother, Jenny Rodriguez, said she needs answers about what led to her son’s death. According to the city medical examiner, Capellan was shot 36 times.
“Today is Friday. I have yet to see any video footage of what they say my son did,” Rodriguez said. “My son will be buried Monday, and I have not seen or heard anything but what the community is saying about my son. That’s not fair at all.”
The NYPD started piloting body-worn cameras in 2014, months after cellphone camera footage captured the death of Eric Garner at the hands of a police officer, Daniel Pantaleo, who held him in a chokehold.
Today, the NYPD claims that its body-camera program is the largest in the United States, with more than 20,000 members using cameras. But critics of the program have questioned the effectiveness of body cameras in deterring police violence, including Garner’s mother.
Mayor Eric Adams said he reviewed the tape, and confirmed the NYPD’s version of the incident.
“He was carrying a gun. I heard the tape. I saw the tape. Officers repeatedly stated, ‘Drop the gun, drop the gun, drop the gun,’” Adams said at a news conference Monday.
But Capellan’s mother said she should be able to see the video too.
“According to Eric Adams, he saw, he heard. Give me that peace, let me see that video of what my son allegedly did wrong,” Rodriguez said. “If my son did something wrong, because he was scared… I’m at peace with walking away, and I would apologize to anyone if he did anything wrong. But if he didn’t do nothing wrong, he didn’t deserve to die like an animal and be shot 36 times.”
Give me that peace, let me see that video of what my son allegedly did wrong.
Rodriguez said her son had a criminal record from when he was a teenager, but was now looking for a job to get his life back on track.
Following the death of George Floyd and the subsequent protests across the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio enacted a policy requiring the NYPD to publicly release body-worn camera footage within 30 days. These instances occur, according to the NYPD, when “an officer discharges a firearm that hits or could hit someone; an officer discharges a taser in a way that results in death or substantial bodily harm; or an officer’s use of force results in death or great bodily harm.” According to the city, family members or those involved in the incident are allowed to see the body-worn camera before it’s publicly released.
But the city’s website says it could take longer in some cases “if the investigation is complex.” A court order could also delay or prevent the release of the footage.
In a briefing hours after the shooting Sunday, NYPD Chief of Patrol Jeffrey Maddrey said four officers in an unmarked police car were driving up when they saw people fighting near the corner of Nagle Avenue and Dyckman Street.
After noticing a man with a gun “fighting in the crowd,” the officers got out of the car and ordered him to drop his firearm repeatedly, according to Maddrey.
“And then at some point, officers discharged their weapons,” he said.
Four officers had opened fire, according to Maddrey. None were injured. Capellan was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
Another person who received medical treatment was injured with a “graze wound.” Officials said it was unclear at the time when the person was hit.
The office of Attorney General Letitia James announced an investigation into Capellan’s death on Wednesday, which is standard protocol for police shootings in New York.
A funeral for Capellan is expected to be held Monday.