Durham, N.C. — Six days after Durham police shot and killed a man they said wielded a knife at officers, a lawyer for the man's family says his independent investigation of the incident contradicts the police account.
Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo was fatally shot in the 800 block of Park Avenue last Saturday morning as police investigated a reported stabbing about a block away.
Police said they ordered Ocampo to drop a knife he was carrying and that Officer R.S. Mbuthia fired only after Ocampo refused.
Scott Holmes, director of the Civil Litigation Clinic at the North Carolina Central University School of Law, who is representing Ocampo's family, said Friday that eyewitness accounts of the shooting don't jibe with the police account.
Holmes said an outside investigation done at his request by private investigator Steve Hale, a former head of the Wake County Sheriff’s Office Homicide Division, determined that Ocampo was waiting in front of his home to talk with officers about a prior altercation, and at least two officers drew their guns on him when one noticed he had a kitchen knife in his back pocket. Witnesses said that, when he was ordered to drop the knife, he pulled it out of his pocket and turned the handle toward the officers, witnesses said.
One witness yelled to Ocampo, in Spanish, to throw the knife down, but as he was handing one officer the handle of the knife, Mbuthia shot him in the chest.
“It is unreasonable to believe that a person presenting the handle of a knife posed a threat of death or imminent bodily harm,” Holmes said in a statement. “Based upon the eyewitness statements of the three non-officers on the scene, the Durham officer did not accurately assess the threat or properly interpret the behavior of Mr. Ocampo.”
Mbuthia is on administrative leave, pending the outcome of a State Bureau of Investigation review of the incident, which is standard procedure in any officer-involved shooting.
Ocampo has a wife and three children in Honduras, the lawyer said, and he was working in the U.S. to support them. "He was an honest and loving man," Holmes said.