More than 200 people turned out for a community meeting Saturday to protest the death of a young black man who was fatally shot by a Virginia police officer after he ran naked onto an interstate highway.
Speakers at the meeting at Richmond’s Second Baptist Church said they were angry that police used deadly force on Marcus-David Peters, 24, who was unarmed and behaving erratically during the May 14 confrontation.
Body-camera video made public by Police Chief Alfred Durham on Friday shows Peters emerge naked from a car and dash onto Interstate 95, then flail erratically before running toward the officer while shouting threats. The officer deploys a stun gun before shooting Peters twice with his service weapon.
Durham on Friday asked the community for patience. “Let the investigation take its course, please,” he said.
The chief emphasized that he understood the impact the incident has had on Peters’ family and the community.
“I only wish we could have helped Mr. Peters,” Durham said. “Unfortunately, we could not help him that day. For that, I’m truly sorry.”
But people who attended the meeting Saturday said they cannot understand why the officer — who referred to Peters as “mentally unstable” during the encounter — shot him.
“Having a mental breakdown in the middle of traffic should not be a death sentence,” said Rob Gibson, a friend who went to college with Peters.
Peters’ sister, Princess Blanding, told the crowd that the family never saw bizarre behavior from her brother. He graduated with honors from Virginia Commonwealth University and was working as a high school science teacher.
Blanding said police need more training on how to de-escalate encounters with people in crisis or suffering from mental illness.
“Nationwide, officers need to be equipped with more strategies than just deadly force,” she said. A day earlier, she had said, “Nothing justifies Marcus not being here.”
The confrontation began after an officer saw Peters strike another vehicle with his sedan and flee.
The officer, whom police have identified as Michael Nyantakyi, a 10-year veteran of the force who is also black, is seen in body-camera video with his handgun trained on the vehicle as he first approaches and orders Peters to stay in the car.
“Male seems to be mentally unstable as we speak,” Nyantakyi says.
Peters exits the vehicle and dashes onto the interstate filled with rush-hour traffic, where a vehicle strikes him, the video shows. Peters then lies in the roadway, rolling back and forth and swinging his limbs.
Peters then approaches the officer, slowly at first, and tells him, “Put that Taser down or I’ll kill you.”
Nyantakyi fires the stun gun as Peters continues to advance. Peters then runs toward the officer. Two gunshots are heard.
Nyantakyi remains on paid administrative leave while the investigation, which will involve an autopsy and toxicology report, continues, Durham said.
When the inquiry is complete, police will forward the findings to the commonwealth’s attorney’s office, which will assess whether the use of force was justified.
Peters’ family plans to lead a march June 2 from Virginia Commonwealth University to police headquarters.