Still No Answers as to Why Police Killed Robert Adams

A month ago, two police officers in San Bernardino, California shot and killed a 23-year-old Black man, Robert Adams. What was Adams doing when they opened fire? According to security camera footage of the incident that went viral on social media, nothing. He was standing in a parking lot when the cops got out of their unmarked car, and they shot him as he tried to run away.

Today, his family is still coping with the shock and horror of the loss, and they still don’t have answers about why the young man was killed. The scant evidence available so far, namely the security footage, suggests the shooting may have been unjustified.

In the short clip, Adams appears to be speaking to someone in the lot when the unmarked car appears. The two cops jump out of the car with guns drawn at Adams, and they fire at him, shooting him in the back, as he turns to flee.

A brief clip of body camera footage made public by the department offers little more in the way of detail. The sound doesn’t begin until after the shooting starts. The video also shows an officer continuing to aim a gun at Adams as he lies on the ground, crying in pain.

Police are not supposed to use deadly force against an individual unless they pose an urgent threat. The officers claimed that Adams was holding a gun; his family, however, says it’s likely he was just holding a cell phone. Adams’ mother has told journalists that she was on the phone with her son at the time of the incident, she heard gunshots, and “he never told me goodbye.” The police have also said that they recovered a loaded handgun from the scene. But the parking lot has been known for being a hotbed of violent activity for gangs, and it’s unclear whether the gun belonged to Adams.

The family is demanding the full release of body camera footage from the officers but has yet to get it. The department is also engaging in an investigation, which is expected to be sent to the district attorney’s office for review. The process could take several months, however.

According to the nonprofit database tool Mapping Police Violence, police in the U.S. have killed 728 people so far in 2022. That’s up by 32 people compared with the same period last year. Black people are three times as likely as white people to be killed by police, and 1.3 times as likely to be killed by cops when they are unarmed, according to the organization.

Another shocking statistic: one in three people killed by police this year were running or driving away, or otherwise trying to flee. Black people, American Indians, Pacific Islanders and Hispanics are all more likely than white people to be killed while trying to flee.

Adams’ death came just days after a similar incident in Akron, Ohio, where a 25-year-old DoorDash driver, Jayland Walker, was stopped in his car by police, got out, and was shot and killed while running away. And the officers unleashed a hailstorm of ammunition at him: A medical examiner found that Walker was shot at least 46 times. He had no criminal record and no alcohol or drugs in his system.

As with Adams’s case, there are still many unanswered questions about Walker’s death and it’s unclear what exactly led to the killing. But both situations suggest that police may have used excessive force, which is a violation of constitutional rights. Specific definitions can vary across jurisdictions but generally speaking if an officer uses more force than what he or she believes is reasonably necessary to protect public safety and diffuse a threat, he or she can be held legally liable.

Even if their actions may suggest otherwise, a cop is not permitted under our nation’s laws to shoot a suspect who is simply running away and poses no imminent bodily risk to anyone. If you believe you are or if someone you know is a victim of excessive use of force by police, you should not hesitate to contact an attorney experienced in handling these matters.