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Jarrell Garris Fatally Shot by New Rochelle Police

Raymond Fowler comforts his daughter, Tiana Fowler, putting his arm around her.
Raymond Fowler, the father of Jarrell Garris, comforts his daughter Tiana Fowler after Mr. Garris was shot.Credit...Seth Harrison/USA Today Network

It’s impossible for Raymond Fowler to explain how it felt to learn a police officer shot his only son after he was accused of taking a few dollars’ worth of fruit, he said.

“Words can’t describe the moment when I heard what happened,” Mr. Fowler said. “Even now as we speak, it’s like I’m in a cloud. This is a very difficult challenge for me.”

Mr. Fowler’s son, Jarrell Garris, 37, was shot by the police on July 3 in New Rochelle, N.Y., a suburb of New York City, after a report of theft from a local grocery store, officials said. He was accused of eating a few grapes and a banana and leaving without paying, the lawyer representing Mr. Garris’s family said.

The New Rochelle Police Department said Mr. Garris was shot when he tried to grab a gun from an officer’s holster. It released body camera footage that shows the events leading up to the shooting but cuts off before it takes place.

Mr. Garris died in the hospital a week later, according to the state attorney general’s office, which is investigating the shooting. The office investigates all incidents in which a police officer causes a death.

“It just makes no sense,” Mr. Fowler said, noting that his son had lived in the tight-knit community of New Rochelle for more than 30 years and was known by several members of the police department. He added that he “absolutely” believed that racial bias contributed to the death of his son, who was Black.

The Police Department said that the body camera video it released was truncated out of respect for Mr. Garris’s family. But the family is leading a chorus of calls from the community demanding the release of the remaining footage.

“The city of New Rochelle claimed they released those videos to be transparent, but why wouldn’t you release the full video?” said William Wagstaff, a lawyer representing Mr. Garris’s family.

Noah Bramson, the mayor of New Rochelle, welcomed the state investigation in a statement on Wednesday and said the city had no objection to the release of full body camera footage if the attorney general, Letitia James, judged that to be appropriate.

“This tragic incident raises a range of questions and concerns, many of which cannot be addressed until the A.G.’s investigation is completed,” the mayor said in the statement.

Mr. Garris, a New Rochelle native who more recently moved to Greensboro, N.C., was in town because he planned to pick up his 11-year-old son from the boy’s mother’s house and bring him home for the summer, said Mr. Fowler, 58, who now lives in Raleigh, N.C.

Just before 4:30 p.m. on July 3, someone who worked at the grocery store, New Rochelle Farms, called the police and said a man had stolen some fruit, according to a statement from the State Police and Mr. Wagstaff. Attempts to reach the grocery store were unsuccessful.

Officers Kari Bird and Gabrielle Chavarry and Detective Steven Conn responded, the statement said.

Officers Bird and Chavarry were the first to approach Mr. Garris on a street near the grocery store, body camera footage shows.

“We just had a call that you were in the store and you ate some items. Is that true, not true?” one of the officers asks.

Mr. Garris does not respond and starts to walk away, the footage shows.

Detective Conn arrives as Mr. Garris is crossing the street, and when one of the other officers says that the grocery store plans to press charges, he tells Mr. Garris that he is under arrest.

“What?” Mr. Garris asks as Detective Conn begins to handcuff him.

Mr. Garris becomes visibly distressed, and the video shows him and the officers beginning to struggle.

At one point, one of the two officers who arrived first is heard saying, “Stop, Steve.”

Detective Conn shouts, “He’s got a gun,” and Mr. Garris extends his arm, but it is difficult to determine what he is reaching for. Then the video ends.

The police have not said that a gun was found on the scene, and Mr. Garris’s father has said that he was unarmed.

The State Police confirmed that Detective Conn fired a shot that hit Mr. Garris. Mr. Wagstaff said Mr. Garris was shot in the neck.

He was taken to Westchester Medical Center, where he remained in critical condition for a week, the police said, before he died on July 10.

The three officers have been placed on administrative leave, a city spokeswoman said.

During a City Council meeting on Tuesday, community members expressed outrage over the shooting.

Dan Miller, a doctor who lives in New Rochelle, said during the meeting that he frequently samples produce at grocery stores.

“No one accosts me in the street. No one threatens my life and nobody shoots me,” Mr. Miller, who is white, said. “I think we know why.”

Aisha Cook, the president of the New Rochelle branch of the N.A.A.C.P., called for the release of the full body camera footage and a thorough investigation.

“Food insecurity is not a death sentence,” she said. “The police are not here to kill. They are not judge, jury and executioner.”

Mr. Fowler, who like his son grew up in New Rochelle, said Mr. Garris had been diagnosed with schizophrenia but had been taking medication with few issues. He said his son had been doing well in recent years, and that he had a full-time job as a caretaker for older people and lived with a girlfriend.

He said certain officers knew of his son’s diagnosis because he had called the department in the past to ask officers to check on him. He questioned why responding officers didn’t request help from mental health services on July 3.

Representative Jamaal Bowman, a Democrat who lives in Yonkers and represents New Rochelle, said that the shooting reflects a long history of tension between the police and Black residents of Westchester County and across the country.

“This is not something that is confined to New Rochelle. Relationships between law enforcement and the African American community have been challenging for a number of decades for a variety of reasons,” Representative Bowman said.

New Rochelle has a population of just over 82,000, and roughly 20 percent of residents are Black, while about 58 percent are white.

He said the killing showed a systemic failure to help people who struggle with mental health. “Too many of us have this idea that some people are beyond saving, and that’s just not true,” he said.

New Rochelle Against Racism, a local activist group, said in a statement that local police “will need deep, transformational change if the Black community is to feel safe, protected and respected, rather than monitored, controlled and attacked.”

The group also compared Mr. Garris’s death to the fatal shooting of another Black man, Kamal Flowers, who was killed by a New Rochelle police officer in 2020 after he fled the scene of a traffic stop and displayed a handgun, according to the police. A Westchester grand jury declined to indict the officer, Alec McKeanna.

To Mr. Fowler, Mr. Garris will always be the 8-month-old baby who grabbed a pair of his father’s sneakers by the laces and used them to get his balance as he took his first steps. He will always be the teenager who neighbors called “CeeTwo,” the same nickname his father was given when he was 17. And he will always be the loving father who enjoyed learning about Black history and rooting for the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Knicks.

“If you had the opportunity to meet my son, you had no choice but to love him,” Mr. Fowler said.

Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

Posted on 14 Jul 2023 00:31 link