ROANOKE COUNTY, Va. –The head of the Roanoke, Virginia, chapter of the NAACP on Tuesday compared the fatal police shooting of an African-American teenager armed with a BB gun to the controversial death of 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland.
A pair of Virginia police officers are on administrative leave after Friday night’s shooting of Kionte DeShaun Spencer, 18, according to Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall.
Spencer, who appeared to be wearing headphones at the time he was shot, was struck twice after refusing commands to drop his gun, Hall told reporters.
Brenda Hale, Roanoke chapter president of the NAACP, told reporters Tuesday: “It was not a deadly force situation. There was no evidence that this young teenager was a threat to anybody.”
Hale likened Spencer’s death to that of Rice, who was fatally shot in 2014 after police mistook the child’s air gun for a real firearm. The death was ruled a homicide.
Hale called Spencer’s shooting death the latest in an epidemic of incidents around the nation in which police resorted to lethal force when none was needed.
Carl Spencer, who spoke at a news conference with Hale, described his brother as “harmless” and “just a normal teenager” who probably didn’t hear the orders to put the gun down because he always wore headphones.
Amy Whittaker, a spokeswoman for the Roanoke County Police Department, said this when asked if Spencer might not have heard officers’ commands because of his headphones: “We’re still in the preliminary investigation but we believe Mr. Spencer was aware of officers’ presence, and that they were giving him multiple commands to drop his weapon.”
The officers responded to a report of a man on the road in suburban Roanoke wearing a bandana and waving and pointing a gun at passing cars, according to Hall.
The man refused orders to drop the weapon and continued walking, police said.
Attempts to Taser Spencer were “ineffective,” Hall said. He was shot in the collarbone and hip area after turning at the officers with the weapon still in his hand, according to Hall, and died later at a hospital.
“This was a deadly force encounter, despite the fact that we know now that this handgun was an air gun,” Hall told reporters Monday.
Spencer, who lived in a group home, was enrolled at Hidden Valley High School, police said. Classmates will hold a vigil for him outside the school on Wednesday morning.
Hall, describing the use of deadly force as a “tragic situation,” said criminal and administrative investigations were under way.
He did not disclose the officers’ race or their names.
The shooting occurred in a busy area and investigators had contacted a number of witnesses, according to Hall.
Police released photos of Spencer walking along a road with the pistol in his hand. They also provided images of the BB gun alongside a similar-looking 9 mm handgun.
Results of the criminal investigation will be turned over to local prosecutors, police said.
Hale called on police to name the officers and release all dashcam video from police cars at the scene.