Police say the father of three pointed a gun at cops and held onto it even as they shot him down. But relatives are questioning why Los Angeles County deputies continued spraying the man with bullets, even as he crawled away.
Dramatic cellphone footage shows Nicholas Robertson, 28, at a busy intersection in Lynwood on Saturday morning, when two deputies fired at him at least 30 times. Authorities say Robertson died alongside a gas station, where a family with children watched the horrific scene from their car.
The incident—which is under investigation by local authorities—sparked a small protest in the city, about 15 miles south of Los Angeles. “Do you want to tell me why, in what circumstances, it would be justified to shoot somebody on their knees,” one protester told KTLA.
But at a press conference Sunday, authorities presented photos appearing to show the suspect gripping a weapon, which they say was aimed at police.
One image shows the suspect wielding a handgun in broad daylight as he ambled down the heavily-trafficked street, while another photo appears to show Robertson holding the gun even as he lies mortally wounded.
Police say the deputies were responding to 911 calls about an armed man just before 11 a.m. In the cellphone footage, the cops are shown a few yards behind Robertson, who apparently ignores them. Robertson crosses the street to the gas station, where he is shot dead.
According to authorities, Robertson fired about six shots in a residential area before police arrived. Then he made his way to a car wash and pizza parlor on the commercial strip where he died.
The suspect was “behaving erratically” and brandished his gun inside the stores, sheriff’s department Captain Steve Katz said.
Cops received several 911 calls about the suspect, described as a black man wearing a checkered shirt. The first call came in at 10:53 a.m.
When officers approached, Robertson “did not comply with their repeated requests to drop the weapon,” Katz told reporters.
Police gunned Robertson down six minutes later, Katz said.
Katz said the chaotic scene unfolded near a gas station, putting several civilians in danger—including a family of two women and three children who were pumping gas just five feet away.
Meanwhile, in a statement Saturday, the sheriff’s office said witnesses saw Robertson “turn and point the gun at the deputies prior to the shooting.”
Robertson allegedly held a .45-caliber semiautomatic handgun, which was not registered to him, throughout the entire ordeal. Cops say they recovered the weapon from his body after he was shot dead.
The sheriff’s department said there was no evidence that Robertson fired at the officers. His alleged weapon was empty, but he was toting additional ammunition, Katz said.
Katz said Robertson may have been “agitated” by “some domestic discord” with his spouse. Police are also awaiting a toxicology report to see if he was under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell said Robertson “had prior contacts with the criminal justice system” but wouldn’t elaborate on the suspect’s history.
Robertson’s death comes during a time of intense public scrutiny of police-involved shootings and excessive force, particularly against men of color, and when cellphone footage of such incidents routinely makes national headlines.
At Sunday’s press conference, McDonnell said the probe into the fatal episode was ongoing and asked witnesses to come forward with additional footage.
“I think we showed that he had a weapon in his hand throughout the whole encounter,” McDonnell told reporters. “There’s going to be criticism any time there’s a deputy-involved shooting. We’ve seen that particularly in last two years or so.”
“The sentiment across America has been critical,” the sheriff added. “That’s why we’ve come out today to try and be as transparent as we can… with the caveat that there is more investigation to be done.”
As police probed the deadly incident, Robertson’s relatives said they would struggle to explain the incident to his children. Robertson was a married father of an 8-year-old girl and 7-year-old twins, KABC reported.
On Saturday, the man’s family said they believed he was unarmed, KTLA reported. “When they shot him in the shoulder and I see him falling… that’s injustice, for me,” Robertson’s mother-in-law Pamela Brown told the station.
“They shot him,” Tracy Brown, a relative of the suspect’s wife, told the Los Angeles Times. “They shot him; as he crawled, they continued to shoot him.”
The man’s sister, Precious Bradford, told KABC that the deputies should face prison time for killing her brother.
“Them two police officers that was shooting him while he was down and they still reloaded they guns and was shooting him—they need something to happen to them,” Bradford said, according to KABC. “Not just suspended—two weeks, three weeks—they need to go to jail.”