Surveillance video disputes details in DPD shooting

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by MATT GOODMAN & REBECCA LOPEZ

Bio | Email | Follow: @rlopezwfaa

WFAA

Posted on October 17, 2013 at 5:53 PM

Updated Friday, Oct 18 at 5:01 PM

Police shooting

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DALLAS –– Footage from a surveillance camera pointed at the street where officers shot a mentally ill man in the abdomen earlier this week shows the man never walked toward police nor raised a knife to them, disputing a police officer’s narrative provided in a sworn affidavit.

On Oct. 14, the man’s mother called 911 to report that her mentally ill son was sitting in a swivel chair in the middle of a cul de sac with a knife and acting erratically. Joyce Jackson, the man’s mother, said the dispatcher promised to send officers who were trained on interacting with the mentally ill.

The surveillance video, given to News 8 by Jackson’s neighbor Maurice Bunch, shows Bobby Gerald Bennett, 53, walk out of the garage of his mother’s home at 9452 Crimnson Court at noon. He begins pacing the street. 

At 12:05 p.m., Bennett retrieves a swivel chair from the garage and sits in the middle of the block. He gets up and talks to Bunch and returns to the chair at 12:08 p.m. Bennett sits still in the chair until a single police cruiser arrives at 12:19 p.m. It’s not clear whether he is holding the knife at this point.

Ofc. Cardan Spencer and a witnessing officer exit the police car and slowly walk toward Bennett, who pushes the chair backward a few feet. He then stands up straight and the two officers draw their weapons. The officers stop about 20 feet from him. Eight seconds after pulling their guns, Spencer fires and Bennett crumples over and falls to the ground. An affidavit says Spencer fired his weapon four times, striking Bennett once in the abdomen.

Bennett was standing still during the entire incident, both of his arms at his sides. The officers then approach him as he writhes on the concrete. One stops and picks something off the ground. The other officer kicks something away, turns Bennett onto his back and handcuffs him. 

“When the officers told him freeze, he complied,” said Bunch, who witnessed the incident from his driveway across the street. “He did not move an inch, in suspended animation; he just stood there, you know? Bobby was conscious, he knew exactly what he was doing because I had been talking to him prior.” 

In an email, Dallas Police Chief David Brown said the department is conducting a criminal investigation of the incident. After that is complete, they will refer their findings to Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins. Following that, Brown said the department will internally investigate whether its deadly force policy was violated. 

"We will be careful to make further comments given the legal procedural due process issues involved with an investigation of this nature," he wrote in the email. 

Read the chief's entire statement here. Spencer was placed on administrative leave after the shooting. Brown extended the order indefinitely after News 8 asked about the surveillance footage. The second officer has not been named.

Spencer's attorney, Robert Rogers, said his client had a reason to shoot Bennett.

"The facts and circumstances known to Officer Spencer at the time completely justify his actions," Rogers said. "Obviously there is much more to this situation than that video."

Rogers wouldn't elaborate further because of the investigation.

The video does not have sound. Bennett has been charged with aggravated assault on a public servant and is in serious condition at Baylor Medical Center.

“It took them no time to start shooting,” Jackson said. “When you’re with a mentally ill person, you don’t just start shooting. They had told me there would be someone special there to help him.” 

Affidavit alleges he pointed knife at officers

At 5:35 p.m. the day of the shooting, Dallas police Sgt. Warren Mitchell sent media a press release detailing the events. 

The email said the caller reported Bennett had “mental health issues” and “was in crisis.” A police affidavit says his mother told investigators after the incident that her son was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, depression and was off his medication. She told police he “had been drinking alcohol for some time.” 

In the press release, Mitchell wrote that Bennett was “acting violent and had made statements that he wanted officers to shoot him.” Bunch said he did not hear Bennett say that, nor was he acting violent. 

In his release, Mitchell said that the two officers gave verbal commands for Bennett to drop his weapon. 

“The individual made statements indicating that he was not going to cooperate with the officers,” he wrote, adding, “the incident escalated which led an officer to fire his weapon upon the individual.” 

The police affidavit says Bennett told officers, “You all are gonna need more officers out here!” The document reports that Bennett “took several steps toward them with the knife raised in an aggressive manner.” 

The surveillance footage does not show Bennett approaching officers after standing up, nor does he ever raise the knife to them.

According to the police affidavit, Spencer was “in fear for his and Wit. Watson’s safety,andfired his duty weapon four times at (Bennett), striking him one time in the abdomen.”

Bunch also refutes this account. He said Bennett walked over to him in his driveway and talked with him. Bunch said he gave Bennett a cigarette and he walked back to his swivel chair. The knife and a pouch of tobacco was sitting on the concrete next to the street, Bunch said. 

“I believe he may have had the knife in his hand (when police shot at him), I’m not 100 percent sure,” Bunch said. “I know when they came, I saw the knife sitting on the ground with a pouch of tobacco.” 

Jackson said she told the dispatcher her son was mentally ill. She said the responding officers never approached her before firing on her son, who stood at least 20 feet from them, according to the affidavit. Each Dallas police officer is required to be trained to handle incidents involving mentally ill individuals. 

An officer is only supposed to discharge their service weapon if they are in fear of their lives, the lives of their partners or to protect members of the general public.

‘A very intelligent guy’

Bunch said he’s known Bobby Bennett for years. He’s invited the 53-year-old into his home before. They’ve drank beer with each other and the two have worked together before. Bennett has never displayed any abnormal behavior in front of him, he said. He even described him as “a very intelligent guy.” 

“Now, you see him pacing and walking? I mean, that’s normal to me,” Bunch said. “Somebody else that may see it, that may not be normal. But he walks and paces, smokes a cigarette, that’s normal.” 

As the video shows, Bunch spoke with Bennett prior to the police arriving. He said he told Jackson not to call the police and that he’d “take care of Bobby.” Jackson said she never heard his request. The knife Bennett had, Bunch said, was no larger than a pocketknife. 

But Bennett was upset, his mother said. He’d drawn his grandmother a picture and wanted to take it to her. She said it was pouring rain that day and she refused to let him take it; the rain would have ruined the drawing. This agitated Bennett, his mother said, and triggered the episode. 

“That just upset him. It can be certain things he can upset about,” Jackson said. “And that’s all it was.” 

Bunch said Bennett was not out to hurt himself or others. His behavior never made Bunch fear for his safety; that’s why he told Jackson he would help calm Bennett down. He was just upset, not out of control, Bunch said. 

“He hadn’t lost his mind, he was just pissed off about something,” Bennett said. “And I’m like, ‘if you want attention, this ain’t the way to get it!’”

‘They took my whole DVR’ 

Dallas police have seen the surveillance footage, Bunch said. Chief Brown confirmed that, as well.

After Bennett was shot, Bunch said investigators took him to Jack Evans Police Headquarters and questioned him. 

“I told them exactly what happened, just as what I’m telling you right now,” he said. 

Officers also asked for the footage and Bunch complied, saying they took his entire DVR system. They’ve since returned it and the footage was not manipulated, Bunch said. 

Jackson said a homicide detective spoke with her at her dinner table and informed her that her son would be charged with aggravated assault against a public servant. Both Bunch and Jackson said the police have not contacted them since. 

Ofc. Cardan Spencer has discharged his service weapon before. In Dec. 2009, he was one of 13 Dallas officers who, along with two Mesquite officers, shot at a robbery suspect who refused demands to drop his weapon.

Dallas Police Chief David Brown's full statement on the Bennett incident: 

We are in the very early stages of conducting a thorough criminal investigation of this incident. Once we complete the criminal investigation we will refer our findings to the Dallas County District Attorney's office...We will be careful to make further comments given the legal procedural due process issues involved with an investigation of this nature.

We will then begin the administrative investigation to determine whether our deadly force policy was violated.

We are aware of video taken by citizens of this incident

Email mgoodman@wfaa.com rlopez@wfaa.com

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