Attorney: Man was handing officer knife when he was shot
Three witnesses told a private investigator that a man with a knife, who was shot and killed by a Durham police officer last Saturday morning, was presenting the knife by the handle to another officer when the officer opened fire and killed him, according to an attorney representing the man’s family.
“It is unreasonable to believe that a person presenting the handle of a knife posed a threat of death or imminent bodily harm,” attorney Scott Holmes in a news release. “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.”
The Durham Police Department said officers “confronted the male, who refused to drop the knife, and the male was shot during the confrontation.” The dead man was later identified as Jose Adan Cruz Ocampo, 33, of Honduras.
Holmes has taken the case for the Ocampo family, and on Friday, he released a different version of events than the one given by the Durham Police Department.
The incident occurred after police were dispatched to a stabbing call in the 700 block of Park Avenue about 8:40 a.m. on July 27. When they arrived, they found a man who had been cut on the face and was bleeding.
They began looking around and saw Ocampo in the 800 block of Park Avenue and approached him as a possible witness, according to the Durham police version of how the confrontation began.
Holmes said his private investigator, Steve Hale, who is the former head of the Wake County Sheriff’s Homicide Department, interviewed three eye-witnesses, and they indicated that Ocampo was waiting at the front of his residence to talk with officers about a prior altercation.
“As three police officers arrived, one noticed that Ocampo had a kitchen knife in his back pocket, and the officer announced to the other two officers the presence of the knife,” the press release stated. “At least two of the officers then drew their weapons, and ordered Ocampo to throw down the knife. According to the witnesses, Ocampo then took the knife from his pocket by the blade and presented the handle of the knife to the officer standing in front of him.”
Someone nearby then yelled to Ocampo in Spanish to throw the knife down, and as he was handing the officer the handle of the knife, one of officers shot Ocampo, striking him multiple times in the chest. He died at the scene.
The officer was identified as R.S. Mbuthia.
The Durham police investigation revealed that the person down the street who was reportedly stabbed and been wounded by a broken bottle, not a knife. He was transported to the hospital, where he was treated and released for his wounds.
The officer was not justified in using lethal force during the incident, Holmes said.
After the incident, Durham Police Chief Jose Lopez said Ocampo failed to follow the officer’s orders to raise his hands up and instead advanced toward the officer with the knife.
"You put your hands up, not go into your pocket and pull out a knife," Lopez stated. "It was a deliberate act - bringing out the knife."
When asked whether Ocampo, who speaks Spanish, might not have understood the officer’s commands, Lopez said, "no matter what language you speak, when a police officer is pointing a gun at you, getting out a weapon is not a response that anybody would think to give."
According to Holmes, the three civilian witnesses that Hale interviewed had also been interviewed by Durham police investigators, but Lopez did not include their information when he spoke about the incident.
“In his statement, Chief Lopez apparently relied only upon the statements provided by the officers involved in the shooting,” Holmes said. “It is disappointing that Chief Lopez would release an incomplete version of events before the finalization of the investigation being conducted by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) and the internal affairs investigation that he said was being conducted by his own department.”
Ocampo was the youngest of three brothers, and he was working in the United States to send money to his wife and young son who live in a small town in Honduras, Holmes said.
Holmes said a fund to support the family, pay for funeral expenses and the cost of shipping Ocampo’s body to Honduras for burial has been established at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church. Contributions may be sent to the church, and checks should be made payable to "Immaculate Conception Catholic Church," with the note "Ocampo Family" in the memo field, Holmes said.
The mailing address is Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, Attn: Katushka Olave, 901A W. Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701.
A community vigil is scheduled for Sunday at 7 p.m. at 804 Park Ave. in Durham.
The SBI is continuing to investigate the incident, and the Police Department had no comment on Holmes’ statements Friday afternoon.