Jalial Whitted put his hands up when officers arrived at the dollar store. He had a cell phone in his left hand.
He also had a gun sticking out of his right pants pocket. The first officer on scene said it appeared to be a fake firearm.
But a store employee who called 911 said the man had a fired a shot inside, sending patrons and employees running.
Whitted told an officer several times to “shoot” as he calmly and slowly walked outside of the store.
Officers repeatedly told Whitted to get on the ground, not to reach for the weapon and several other commands, in shouts and screams.
Moments later, five officers fire at him; authorities later said he indeed put his hand on the gun in his pocket.
As medics treated the handcuffed Whitted, his mother arrived at the shooting scene. She’d been looking for him.
Those details were captured by police body cameras during the May 24 confrontation in Absecon, which Whitted, 37, survived. The videos were made public Tuesday by the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office, which is investigating the shooting for the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office due to an unexplained conflict.
None of the footage, however, answers any questions for Whitted’s family members, who on Wednesday expressed ongoing frustration with authorities in both counties. The footage only creates more confusion, they said.
“Looking at it, we believe it was unjustified,” Steven Young, president of the South Jersey chapter of the National Action Network, said Wednesday. The chapter is working with the family.
The frustration and questions are big and small, he said.
Among the main issues are that Young does not believe the officers attempted any meaningful de-escalation, Whitted had his hands up above his head for a bulk of the 2 1/2 minutes before officers fired, and he was not violent to the police.
“I did not see a threat,” Young said.
Despite the gun, “You cannot shoot a gun with your hands in the air,” Young said.
Why couldn’t the police move in and arrest Whitted, he asked.
The Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office did not immediately return a message seeking comment on Young’s claims, but authorities across New Jersey often do not answer question while such case are under investigation.
In a press statement announcing the body camera footage was available, the prosecutor’s office said officers did attempted to de-escalate the situation, “by backing away and allowing Mr. Whitted to exit the store and stand on the front sidewalk.”
“Mr. Whitted then reached for and placed his hand on the handgun in his right pocket, at which time five police officers discharged their duty firearms at him. The officers indicated that they fired to protect the lives of the nearby public, their own lives, and the lives of their fellow officers,” it said.
Moreover, as Whitted’s mother said in May at a press event, and Young reiterated Wednesday, Whitted struggled with mental illness and was very known to police in the area, especially in Pleasantville. Police could have treated him better, the family said.
According to the videos, the first officer to confront Whitted knew him by sight. “Looks like a fake gun in his pocket, it’s gonna be Jalial Whitted, got him at gunpoint now,” the officer says.
That started repeated commands, like “Stop!” as Whitted moved slowly outside the store and responded with, “Shoot.”
Then, as more officers arrived, they pleaded with Whitted, in loud voices, “Please, it’s not worth it!” and “Just get down!” and “Drop to your knees!”
Whitted was charged with firearm possession violations and treated at a hospital, but Young said the charges were initially dropped.
Authorities re-charged Whitted in mid-June with firearms violations again, and taken to the Atlantic County jail, where he remains.
Whitted needs help, not a jail cell, Young said. “We’re worried about his health.”
Among the family’s lesser issues are that authorities in both counties have not been very communicative. Young said he had to file an open records request to get them to release the footage. And, they still do not know the names of the officers that were involved.
The press statement by the Ocean prosecutor’s office did not name the officers, and both Pleasantville and Absecon officers were at the scene.
The Dollar General store is in Absecon, but a 911 call from a terrified and breathless employee went to Pleasantville police. “Shots have been fired, the guy has a gun in my store,” the woman said.
“I need officers here now,” the woman pleads. The Pleasantville dispatcher realized the store is in Absecon and tried to transfer the call to that department, saying “Stay on the phone, stay on the phone” to the caller.
Young, the family spokesperson also said neither county prosecutor’s office has explained the conflict that sent the case to Ocean. Overall, they do not feel any sense of justice.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in all my years of activism,” Young said.
Whitted’s history with police is documented publicly, and includes a legal settlement with Pleasantville police – a possible reason for the transfer.
In December of 2015, Whitted accepted a settlement from Pleasantville for $50,000. A suit alleged he was beaten by police officers in 2011 while handcuffed, and officers struck him with clubs and the butts of shotguns.
Officers had gone to Whitted’s home after being told he had a knife and was suffering from a “pre-existing psychiatric condition,” his lawsuit said.
Once his mother talked him into putting the knife on the ground, Whitted stumbled on the sidewalk and fell, the suit said. He was then handcuffed before the alleged attack, which he said took place while he was face down.
In March 2015, Whitted was paroled from state prison for resisting arrest and drug possession, according to state Department of Corrections records.
Whitted’s mother, at the May press conference, and moments after police shot her son, was up front that he was currently on probation, and she had reached out to that agency when Whitted appeared to be struggling.
Young reiterated Wednesday that the family tried to work within the system in getting help for Whitted.
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Kevin Shea may be reached at [email protected].