It’s impossible for Raymond Fowler to explain how it felt to learn a police officer shot his only son after he was accused of taking a few dollars worth of fruit, he said.
“Words can’t describe the moment I heard what happened,” Mr Fowler said. “Even now as we speak, it’s like I’m on a cloud. This is a very difficult challenge for me.”
Mr. Fowler’s son, Jarrell Garris, 37, was shot by the police on July 3 in New Rochelle, NY, a suburb of New York, after a report of a robbery at a local grocery store, officials said. He was accused of eating some grapes and a banana and leaving without paying, said the lawyer representing Mr. Garris’ family.
He died at the hospital a week later, according to the attorney general’s office, which is investigating the shooting. The office investigates all incidents in which a police officer causes death.
“It just doesn’t make sense,” said Mr. Fowler, noting that his son had lived in the tight-knit New Rochelle community for more than 30 years and was known to several members of the police department. He added that he “absolutely” believed that racial bias contributed to the death of his son, who was Black.
The New Rochelle Police Department released body camera footage that shows the events leading up to the shooting but cuts away before it happens.
The department said Mr. Garris was shot when he tried to grab a gun from an officer’s holster, and that the video was cut out of respect for his family.
But the family is leading a chorus of calls from the community demanding the release of the remaining footage.
“The city of New Rochelle claimed they released those videos to be transparent, but why wouldn’t you release the full video?” said William Wagstaff, a lawyer representing Mr. Garris’s family.
Mr. Garris, a New Rochelle native who more recently moved to Greensboro, NC, was in town because he planned to pick up his 11-year-old son from the boy’s mother’s house and bring him home for the summer, said Mr. Fowler. , 58, who now lives in Raleigh, NC
Just before 4:30 p.m. on July 3, someone who worked at the New Rochelle Farms grocery store called police and said a man had stolen some fruit, according to a statement from State Police and Mr. Wagstaff.
Officers Kari Bird and Gabrielle Chavarry and Detective Steven Conn responded, the statement said.
Officers Bird and Chavarry were the first to approach Mr. Garris on a street near the grocery store, body camera footage shows.
“We just got a call that you were in the store and you ate some stuff. Is that true, isn’t it?” asks one of the officers.
Mr. Garris does not respond and begins to walk away, the footage shows.
Detective Conn arrives when Mr. Garris crosses the street, and when one of the other officers says the grocery store plans to press charges, he tells Mr. Garris that he is arrested.
“For what?” Mr. Garris asks as Detective Conn begins to handcuff him.
Mr. Garris becomes visibly distressed, and the video shows him and the officers beginning to struggle.
At one point, one of the two officers who arrived first is heard saying, “Steve, stop.”
Detective Conn yells, “He’s got a gun,” and Mr. Garris extends his arm, but it’s hard to tell what he’s reaching for. Then the video ends.
The police did not say a gun was found at the scene, and Mr. Garris’ father said he was unarmed.
The State Police confirmed that Detective Conn fired a shot that hit Mr. Garris. Mr Wagstaff said Mr Garris had been shot in the neck.
He was taken to Westchester Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition for a week, police said, before he died on July 10.
The three officers have been placed on administrative leave, a city spokeswoman said.
Mr Wagstaff, the family’s lawyer, described the police response as an “overreaction” to an alleged theft worth a few dollars. Attempts to reach the grocery store were unsuccessful.
“He must have been hungry,” said Mr. Wagstaff. “There was no reason to put him in handcuffs.”
During a meeting of the City Council on Tuesday, community members expressed outrage over the shooting, The Journal News reported.
Dan Miller, a physician who lives in New Rochelle, said during the meeting that he often samples produce at grocery stores.
“No one runs up to me on the street. No one threatens my life and no one shoots me,” said Mr. Miller, who is white, and the audience audibly reacted. “I think we know why.”
Aisha Cook, the president of the New Rochelle branch of the NAACP, called for the release of the full-body camera footage and a thorough investigation of the three officers involved.
“Food insecurity is not a death sentence,” she said. “The police are not here to kill. They are not judge, jury and executioner.”
Mr. Fowler, who like his son grew up in New Rochelle, said Mr. Garris was diagnosed with schizophrenia but took medication with few problems. He said his son had been doing well in recent years, and that he had a full-time job as a carer for older people and lived with a girlfriend.
He said certain officers knew about his son’s diagnosis because he had called the department in the past to ask officers to check on him. He questioned why responding officers did not seek help from mental health services on July 3.
For Mr. Fowler, Mr. Garris will always be the 8-month-old baby who grabbed a pair of his father’s shoes by the laces and used them to gain his balance as he took his first steps. He will always be the teenager that neighbors called “CeeTwo”, the same nickname given to his father when he was 17 years old. And he will always be the good-natured and loving father who enjoyed learning about Black history and rooting for the Los Angeles Rams. and the New York Knicks.
“If you had the opportunity to meet my son, you had no choice but to love him,” Mr Fowler said.
Susan C. Beachy contributed research.