Aug 17, 2023 - News

Philadelphia police change account of fatal shooting by officer

Illustration of multiple photos of a police hat on an evidence board with pins and string.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Philadelphia police are changing their story about what led to an officer fatally shooting a man during a traffic stop in Kensington this week after body camera footage conflicted with their account.

Driving the news: Bodycam footage shows that the man — identified by family as 27-year-old Eddie Irizarry, per the Inquirer — was sitting inside of his Toyota Corolla when the officer fired his weapon, police commissioner Danielle Outlaw said during a news conference Wednesday.

  • A department spokesperson's original account to reporters at the scene of the shooting on Monday said the driver was actually outside of the vehicle, and had brandished a knife and lunged at an officer when he was shot.
  • Outlaw declined to say whether Irizarry was holding a knife or had been warned before he was shot. But she said the department had a duty to correct the erroneous information.

The big picture: This is the second time in recent months that the Police Department has admitted making mistakes — and had to walk back information initially provided to the public — in high-profile tragedies.

Flashback: The department corrected its timeline of a mass shooting in the Kingsessing neighborhood in early July.

  • Police acknowledged a dispatcher sent officers to the wrong block after a 911 caller directed police to where 31-year-old Joseph Wamah Jr. was gunned down July 2, more than 40 hours before a shooter carried out an attack in the same neighborhood.

What they're saying: The department is "trying to backtrack" how the errors were made in the latest incident, Outlaw said. She said she didn't know who initially relayed the incorrect information about the shooting.

  • "We had a reason to believe, on good authority, that's what occurred," she said. "The question is how do we reestablish trust? Sometimes I feel like we take 20 steps forward, and it just takes one incident and we take 50 steps backward."

Down to details: Officers began pursuing the driver after they said they saw him driving erratically in North Philadelphia. They followed the vehicle as it made several turns before traveling the wrong way down East Willard Street.

  • After the vehicle parked, officers got out of their patrol car and approached the Toyota Corolla from both sides.
  • One of the officers tried opening the passenger's door while a partner walked toward the driver's side. The officer on the passenger's side "alerted" the second officer that the driver "had a weapon," Outlaw said.

As the driver turned, the officer on the driver's side opened fire, striking Irizarry multiple times, Outlaw said. He was later pronounced dead at the hospital.

  • The officer, not named but identified as a five-year veteran assigned to the 24th District, was placed on restrictive leave.

Yes, but: The officer hasn't been interviewed by investigators, police officials said. They said the department has a 72-hour window to interview officers who are involved in shootings in order to protect their rights.

Of note: Police recovered two weapons — a kitchen knife and a serrated folding knife — inside the vehicle, Philly Detective Peter Marrero said at the news conference.

What we're watching: Officials said both officers' body cameras were activated during the encounter but the footage is not being released as police and prosecutors investigate.

  • Philly's internal affairs is conducting a separate administrative probe to determine whether the officers violated department policies.
  • The officer who opened fire is expected to be named today as long as doing so won't jeopardize the officer's safety, police spokesman Sgt. Eric Gripp said.

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