New video brings into clearer focus the final, shocking moment when North Carolina police officer Timothy Larson fatally shot 29-year-old Brandon Combs through the windshield of Larson’s police SUV.
The video—shared by the Combs’ family lawyer with The Daily Beast prior to what the city of Concord said would be its public release Thursday—offers an unobstructed view of what former Cabarrus County District Attorney Roxann Vaneekhoven recently concluded was not a crime. Instead, the prosecutor said, the shooting amounted to reasonable use of force by a police officer who feared for his life.
Combs’ family maintains otherwise.
“I hope people watch it and realize this was murder,” Combs’ mother, Virginia Tayara, told The Daily Beast on Thursday by text message.
Neither Larson—who was fired from the department for allegedly lying to investigators about facts unrelated to the shooting—nor his lawyer, Chris McCartan, could be immediately reached for comment.
But in a statement last month, McCartan leaned hard on the prosecutor’s decision, noting that “the chief law enforcement officer in Cabarrus County has reviewed all evidence and has determined that no criminal process is appropriate.”
He also insisted that Larson would prove he did not lie to investigators.
“Timothy Larson’s candor regarding the actual shooting or any interaction with Mr. Combs has never been in question,” McCartan wrote later in his e-mail to The Daily Beast.
Last month, as The Daily Beast reported, ex-Officer Larson dodged criminal charges despite shooting Combs multiple times, radioing in the shooting, and then shooting at him once more.
While some of the body-worn camera footage had been previously published by local broadcast station WSOC-TV, the new video offers further clarity on the fatal encounter. Among other things, it clearly shows a shift in tactics by Larson to try and subdue Combs, with the officer brandishing a gun, baton, and taser before Combs flees from a truck he had allegedly been trying to steal and enters the officer’s own police SUV.
Within seconds, Larson uses his gun to shoot Combs after the man—whose family says he suffered from mental illness—glances down below the car’s dash, the shots ringing out just as Combs appears to have been starting or revving the engine.
The SUV never moves in the video, even after shots ring out.
In a written release by former District Attorney Vaneekhoven—who retired at the end of last month—the prosecutor cited various reasons for not charging the officer.
They included: the 15 commands from the officer allegedly ignored by Combs; the fact that Larson could not see Combs’ hands; the allegedly revving SUV as a potentially deadly weapon that she said Larson was standing in front of; and how Larson said he had seen Combs look down toward the latch of an AR-15 inside the vehicle.
Vaneekhoven said she had reviewed materials from state investigators, all available video, and officer statements, and consulted police professionals before releasing her decision.
But the new footage from Larson’s body-worn camera raised fresh questions about the use of force, according to Jeffrey Fagan, a Columbia University policing expert who previously expressed skepticism of the DA’s decision.
“If the SUV was a danger to the officer, then it would have started rolling once the suspect was dead behind the wheel. But it didn’t move, so it seems the vehicle was not an imminent threat to the officer,” said Fagan, a law professor.
Fagan told The Beast by e-mail that he now believes the prosecutor’s explanation “misstates” the cop’s position relative to the SUV, and “overstates” the threat of either the gun or the AR-15 as potential weapons.
“He shot the suspect before the SUV moved,” said Fagan. “The suspect seemed unable to put the car in gear. And he was standing to the side, so the danger to the officer was uncertain.”
Vaneekhoven did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In criticizing the shooting, Harry Daniels, Tayara’s lawyer, has cited the landmark Supreme Court decision Tennessee vs Garner, which requires a substantial risk of serious physical harm to justify deadly force against a fleeing suspect
“If the cops are too late, they’re too late,” he said in an interview. “We don’t, we don’t kill in our country just because we can’t capture [someone]. We use deadly force if deadly force is warranted. “
Another policing expert argued Vaneekhoven’s assessment was largely valid.
“Officer Larson analyzed the situation properly,” said professor Kalfani N. Turè, a former police officer and professor at Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland.
“He uses appropriate force, he follows the continuum. He does everything, he gives verbal commands. He literally gives us a textbook example here of using lethal force as the last recourse,” said Turè, who noted that the officer switched from his gun to less-lethal methods before finally arriving at the decision to shoot.
However, he said: “Where lethal force is used, it’s just never a pretty sight.”