Richmond Police Department (RPD) held a press conference this morning to release footage showing the officer-involved shooting of Marcus Peters on May 14 at 5:33 p.m.
Peters, a VCU graduate and biology teacher at Essex High School in Tappahannock, was shot and killed by RPD Officer Michael Nytantaki – who is currently on paid administrative leave – after crashing his car on the 95/64 highway interchange. Peters, who was naked at the time, was rolling on the ground and dancing in the street before being tased and eventually shot in the abdomen. He died shortly after midnight. The medical examiner has listed the death of Peters as a homicide.
The press conference, chaired by Chief Alfred Durham, was an emotional presentation of the circumstances surrounding the death of Peters and included video from the Jefferson Hotel, traffic cameras, along with footage from the officer’s body-worn camera. Before the footage was shown, Durham addressed the room by saying there has been a lot of misinformation circulating about the incident, but noting that the press conference was an attempt to maintain transparency – something he said remained one of the highest priorities for the department.
“The RPD understands the concerns and impact this has had on our community,” Durham said. “As many of you know, I have been a champion of transparency since assuming command of the Richmond Police Department.”
As footage played, Durham talked through the scenes depicted, which included video from the Jefferson Hotel, where Peters was a part-time employee. The video showed Peters walking through the hotel without his shirt on before he stops to speak with other employees in a service hallway. He eventually leaves the hotel and gets into his car without any of his clothes, which were later found on Franklin Avenue.
The next clips consisted of traffic camera footage of Peters speeding down Main Street before turning on to Belvidere, where he was eventually spotted by Nytantaki, who followed him on to the interstate where the encounter took place.
The entire encounter between Peters and Nytantaki, according to the footage, clocked in at one minute and 16 seconds. During this time Peters can be seen getting out of his car, running in the direction of traffic, dancing, and exhibiting odd behavior, before being struck by a vehicle on the highway. Nytantaki can he heard speaking to police dispatch over the radio as Peters left his vehicle, saying, “seems to be mentally unstable, as we speak.”
As the encounter unfolds, Peters can be seen getting up and shouting, “I’ve figured it out. I’m living the dream.” He then proceeds to charge the officer who had his taser drawn, saying, “Back the fuck up. Put the taser down or I’ll kill you.”
Shortly after, Nytantaki deployed his taser. Yet according to Durham, only one prong made contact with Peters, rendering it ineffective. From here Nytantaki re-draws his service weapon, discharging two shots into Peters’ abdomen before he eventually tumbles to the ground. A state trooper can be seen shortly afterward asking Nytantaki to “holster your weapon for me”, while police officers arriving at the scene attempted to administer first aid to Peters.
“You see officers there putting on gloves. Whenever we use our force, we are to render aid,” said Durham, responding to a question about additional officers who appeared to be standing around idly.
During the question and answer session, an emotional Durham addressed the mental health aspect of the incident. “I looked at what it would take to become a psychologist, psychiatrist, mental health counselor, five to eight years of training. Our police department gives our officers 40 hours,” he said.
“Folks just want to beat us up without having the facts – that hurts, ladies and gentlemen. It hurts the morale of the men and women in our department, and it hurts me, because I have to stand up here and explain what people don’t understand.”
RPD’s Force Investigative Team is currently leading the investigation with support from the FBI, which is standard procedure for incidents that involve the deadly use of force. Durham would not comment on any aspects of the investigation, only taking questions about the content shown in the video footage at the press conference.
Princess Blanding, the sister of Peters, spoke to the press a short time later, saying, “I am extremely appalled that Chief Durham tried to defend the killing of my brother Marcu Peters. Marcus needed help, not death.” She did not comment on his mental health, only saying that the family had never seen any behavior like that in the video. An event called Demanding Justice for Marcus Peters: A Speak-Out & Mobilization has already been planned and will be taking place at Second Baptist Church, West End tomorrow.
Peters was the 412th person to be shot and killed by law enforcement in the US this year, according to the Washington Post’s Fatal Force tracker. This incident also follows reporting of excessive force against an autistic teen by the RPD earlier this month.
Madelyne Ashworth and Sarah Kerndt contributed to this report. Photo of Chief Durham by Landon Shroder