A Florida sheriff called for calm after a 28-year-old unarmed black man in a stolen car was shot and critically wounded early on Monday by a white officer, after witness reports that the man had his hands up and amid racially charged protests nationwide about police violence.
“I ask everyone to not rush to judgment and allow the investigation to be completed,” Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said at a news conference in Orlando.
Demings, who himself is African American and was surrounded by six religious leaders from the black community, said investigators have found some eyewitness accounts that conflict with that of the officer involved.
Witnesses at the apartment complex said that the men had their hands up when the deputy opened fire, according to local media reports.
Cities across the United States have seen major protests in recent days after grand juries declined to indict anyone in the deaths of two unarmed black men at the hands of white police officers in New York and Ferguson, Missouri.
After locating a stolen car at an apartment complex just after midnight on Monday, Sergeant Robert McCarthy fired three shots, one of which hit Cedric Bartee.
Demings said Bartee failed to comply with McCarthy’s commands and “made extensive furtive movements,” making the deputy fear for his safety.
Bartee underwent surgery and was in stable but critical condition late in the afternoon, the sheriff said. A second man in the car was arrested unhurt.
The shooting also comes only a few days after a 32-year-old Latino man was shot and killed in a car by an Orlando detective investigating a burglary. Police said the detective opened fire after he saw Alejandro Noel Cordero had a gun.
On Monday Demings said he was trying to be transparent in holding the press conference “because of the backdrop of everything happening in the country at this time.”
He added: “It’s concerning to me” how the public might react.
Bartee had a history of arrests on at least 45 charges since 1999, according to a list provided by the sheriff, but the deputy was not aware of his background at the time of the shooting, Demings said.
McCarthy has been reassigned to administrative duties for at least a week, and the shooting is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement as part of a standard procedure. The FDLE is also investigating Cordero’s shooting.