Mar 6, 2024 - News

Police source of "misinformation" in Irizarry shooting remains a mystery

Illustration of an eye inside of a megaphone.

Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

Nearly seven months after the fatal shooting of Eddie Irizarry, Philadelphia police still haven't identified a departmental source who provided erroneous information about the encounter that was relayed to the public.

Why it matters: Accountability experts tell Axios they think police have waited too long to explain who is responsible for the error, undermining trust in a department previously found to have a high rate of shootings.

Driving the news: No one has been disciplined for providing the flawed narrative, and the internal affairs investigation remains ongoing, a police spokesperson tells Axios.

  • Jamison Rogers, the director of investigations for the city's Citizens Police Oversight Commission, previously said his agency hadn't pinpointed the source of the flawed information but was continuing to monitor the case.

Catch up quick: Former Philadelphia police officer Mark Dial remains jailed awaiting trial on charges of murder in the Aug. 14 killing of Irizarry in Kensington. He was later fired for insubordination.

  • A department spokesperson originally told reporters at the scene that Irizarry was outside of his vehicle, had brandished a knife and lunged at an officer when he was shot.
  • The police corrected that narrative days later after body-camera footage conflicted with the original account.
  • The footage, later released by prosecutors, showed Irizarry with a small knife pressed to his thigh but sitting inside his vehicle when Dial shot within seconds of exiting a patrol car.

Reality check: An Axios review of bodycam footage shows that neither Dial nor his partner, Michael Morris, provided an account matching the initial police description.

  • Morris told supervisors who were on the scene within minutes of the shooting that he had tried to open the passenger's side door of the vehicle when he saw Irizarry with a knife. He told Dial that Irizarry had a knife, and then Dial opened fire.
  • Dial was fired for not cooperating with the department's investigation of the shooting and prosecutors have said Irizarry didn't pose a threat when he was killed.

State of play: The shooting occurred under the watch of former police commissioner Danielle Outlaw, who had pledged police would conduct a "fair and thorough" internal affairs investigation, including figuring out the internal source of the "misinformation."

  • She said the inaccurate information had "dire consequences" in shaping the initial narrative about Irizarry.

Yes, but: Outlaw then left for a job with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and a new mayoral administration, including police commissioner Kevin Bethel, took over.

  • A spokesperson for Mayor Cherelle Parker tells Axios the police department "is very committed to getting to the bottom of this matter" but cannot "share details regarding the source of the misinformation" because of the ongoing investigation.

What they're saying: Activist Rosalind Pichardo of the anti-violence group Operation Save Our City tells Axios she's concerned the department could hold the case open forever, hoping the public forgets about it.

  • She says people deserve to know the "whole truth" about what happened.

Quick take: Brian Higgins, a former New Jersey police chief and adjunct professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, tells Axios it's possible the officers could have provided another version of the story while off-camera.

  • It's also possible a supervisor made an incorrect inference based on the information provided on the scene and relayed a faulty run-down to the department's public information officer.

The bottom line: Higgins tells Axios the department must provide a full accounting of what went wrong.

  • "There's two options: mass incompetence or a cover-up," he says.
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