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Police have changed their account of a fatal shooting by a Philadelphia officer earlier this week, acknowledging that the person was shot inside the car rather than outside and no longer saying that he fled a traffic stop and later “lunged at” at police with a knife.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said video on the body-worn cameras of both officers involved “made it very clear that what we initially reported was not actually what happened.”
“I understand and want to acknowledge the hurt and confusion that family and community members can experience when details of investigations change, and especially when they change in a very public way that this has occurred,” Outlaw told reporters Wednesday.
Police haven’t identified the officers involved and haven’t released bodycam video.
Outlaw said two investigations are underway, one involving the district attorney’s office to determine whether officers followed the law and another internal affairs probe to determine whether they followed department policies and procedures.
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The shooting happened after officers spotted a car being driven erratically shortly before 12:30 p.m. Monday in north Philadelphia and the driver then headed south for several blocks before turning the wrong way down a one-way street, police said.
Police originally said Monday that officers tried to pull the driver over but he fled. Cpl. Jasmine Reilly also said at that time that he came out of the car with a knife and “lunged” at officers, ignoring commands to drop the weapon.
Philadelphia police have altered their initial account of a fatal shooting after a video revealed different details.
But in a new account of the shooting in a police statement Tuesday night, police did not say officers tried to stop the vehicle, only that they followed the driver until he stopped. Then, they said, an officer approaching the passenger side of the vehicle warned the other officer, who was approaching the driver’s side, that the driver had a weapon. “As the male turned towards” the officer on the driver’s side, that officer fired multiple times into the vehicle, the statement said.
The driver was shot several times and was pronounced dead at a hospital minutes later, police said.
“During the press briefing at the scene on 8/14/23, the preliminary information indicated that the driver was outside of the vehicle at the time of the shooting,” police said in the statement, adding that now “the evidence indicates that the male was seated inside the vehicle.”
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Christine Coulter, chief of detectives, said the report that the person was shot outside the vehicle was something called in to police radio, and officials are trying figure out who said it. The officer who shot the driver hasn’t yet been interviewed because department policy affords officers 72 hours after a shooting before that happens, she said.
Police in their revised account Tuesday said two knives “were observed inside the vehicle” but declined to say whether the driver was holding a weapon or was ordered to drop one. A detective said one appeared to be a “kitchen-style knife” and the other a “serrated folding knife.”
Outlaw acknowledged that the shifting accounts would make it “a challenge” to re-establish trust with the community, and “will raise additional questions.” However, she also said that officials had to protect the integrity of the investigation that also involves the district attorney.
“Sometimes I feel like we take 20 steps forward and it just takes one incident, we take 50 steps backward,” Outlaw said. “I’m hoping that they see that this is a genuine effort to do everything that we can to share what we know when we have it as we receive it.”