Law enforcement officials asserted a surveillance video released Monday backs their contention that officers were forced to fire on a knife-wielding terror suspect in a Roslindale parking lot last week, while the victim’s family countered that it does not show the man brandishing a weapon or making combative moves.
The video footage, which is grainy and shot from a distance through rain, showed Joint Terrorism Task Force members appearing to back away from Usaamah Rahim, the 26-year-old Roslindale man who was allegedly waving a knife, before fatally shooting him about 30 seconds later. The figures that can be seen are silhouettes, and no weapons are visible.
“Especially after events in other jurisdictions, there’s a growing public interest in transparency and accountability when local, state, or federal law enforcement use lethal force,” said Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who released the video at his headquarters. “It’s become easier than ever for rumor, speculation, and inaccurate information to fill the vacuum if reliable facts aren’t put out rapidly.”
Officials said the video clearly demonstrated a Boston police officer and a FBI agent had no choice but to fire after Rahim, who authorities say was about to kill police, lunged at them with a knife. Some specialists in policing said the shooting appeared justified.
But Rahim’s family issued a statement saying the video did not tell the whole story.
“The video does not show Mr. Rahim possessing, holding, or brandishing a weapon of any sort, much less a knife,” it said. “The video does not show Mr. Rahim plotting, scheming, or planning an attack on law enforcement officers. To the contrary, the video depicts Mr. Rahim walking toward a bus stop on the way to work.”
The video was shot by a surveillance camera about 50 yards from where the encounter took place in the CVS parking lot in Roslindale around 7 a.m. on June 2, officials said.
It shows Rahim crossing the lot heading toward Washington Street , followed moments later by three members of the task force. All four appear calm.
The video shows the task force members suddenly backing away as at least two more task force members run up, and the person authorities say is Rahim advances toward them at a steady, methodical pace. He walks directly at an officer, who eventually shoots him.
No weapons are visible in the footage, and the initial meeting of the task force members and Rahim is obscured. Authorities say Rahim was carrying a foot-long combat knife.
In the video, task force members spend about 30 seconds avoiding Rahim, who does not appear to stop advancing until he is shot three times.
About 10 seconds later, one of the task force members appears to pick up something from the ground where he fell. About 10 seconds after that, they kneel over his body.
Boston Police Commissioner William Evans said officers gave repeated commands for Rahim to drop his weapon. Documents filed in federal court say that when Rahim was ordered to drop his weapon, he responded, “You drop yours.”
At one point, Conley said, Rahim was just 3 or 4 feet from task force members.
Rahim had been under 24-hour surveillance by federal officials. He was allegedly secretly recorded by law enforcement just before the confrontation telling his nephew he planned to attack “boys in blue.”
The nephew, David Wright of Everett, is facing federal obstruction charges and is being held without bail pending a hearing later this month.
Vincent Lisi, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Boston office, said the agency would conduct its own investigation into the use of deadly force.
Thomas Nolan, an associate professor in criminology at Merrimack College and a former Boston police lieutenant, said the video, coupled with evidence that Rahim had a knife, suggests that officers reasonably believed themselves to be facing a serious threat, though he also said he wondered whether more could have been done to negotiate with Rahim.
“I think to the extent that any conclusions can be drawn from [the video], it appears as though the officers were justified in shooting this young man,” Nolan said. “The question arises, and I think it’s a fair question, as to whether it was necessary to do so.”
Boston civil rights lawyer Howard Friedman said that given how close Rahim appeared to get to the task force members, they appeared to be left with no choice but to defend themselves with lethal force.
“At that distance, even if they had Tasers, you probably wouldn’t use a Taser,” he said. “Police officers have a duty to protect themselves, and if people are advancing on them with a weapon, and they’ve been told to put it down, and the officers have retreated and the person is getting close, then that would be justified.”
Evans said less than lethal force was not an option.
“This guy had a malicious intent, and our officers were really faced with that,” Evans said. “I don’t think he was ever going to go down easy. There were multiple requests to put down that weapon. He was given every chance.
“Taking a life is the hardest thing we do, and that’s a decision we’ll have to live with.”
Boston police officers do not carry Tasers, Evans said. “That’s a very controversial issue across the country,” he said, because some people have died after being hit with the weapon.
“Whether we go to them or not after this, that’s something for discussion,” he said.
Conley said his investigation was not complete and he would consult Rahim’s family, as well as interview any witnesses the family suggests.
Rahim’s family, their attorneys, and community leaders viewed the video last week.
The Rahim family statement after the video’s public release, however, questioned why Rahim was approached at all.
“Neither the federal government nor the Commonwealth has suggested that a judge had issued a warrant prior to law enforcement’s attempt to execute a warrantless arrest of Mr. Rahim,” the family said. “Moreover, the video does not show that Mr. Rahim was engaged in a criminal act at that moment, providing law enforcement with no cause to detain Mr. Rahim without the benefit of a warrant.”
Authorities have said officers were approaching Rahim to talk, not to arrest him.
The family statement also criticized Conley’s office for releasing what it described as an abridged version of the surveillance footage without the approach by the officers, but the video does show the approach, and Conley’s office confirmed it released the full video.
A spokeswoman for the family’s attorney did not respond to a request for clarification.