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Criminal Justice

Lawyer For Family Of 23-Year-Old Fatally Shot by San Bernardino Officer While Running Away Disputes Police Narrative

A screenshot from police body-worn camera footage shows Rob Adams turning and running from police in the parking lot of a business in San Bernardino. A police officer's hand is in frame, aiming a gun in Adams direction.
A screenshot from the body-worn camera video.
(SBPD)
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The attorney for the family of 23-year-old Rob Adams, who was fatally shot by a San Bernardino police officer Saturday, said the narrative provided by the department this week is false.

The claims come after civil rights attorney Ben Crump tweeted surveillance video of the deadly shooting. The San Bernardino Police Department subsequently released a video statement that includes edited officer-worn body camera footage.

Surveillance footage shows two officers in an unmarked vehicle arriving around 8 p.m. to the parking lot of a business. The SBPD said a “citizen informant” notified them Adams was there, armed with a gun.

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The wide-angle video shows Adams pulling up his shirt seconds before walking towards the officers’ car and appears to show Adams holding an object in his hand. Police said Adams pulled a gun from his waistband.

In the surveillance video, two officers exit the vehicle. One of them begins firing at Adams as he’s running away.

The department shared a fragment of the body cam video of one of the officers, which shows Adams running in the opposite direction.

A zoomed in photo of Rob Adams hand appears to show that he is holding something, but it is not clear what the object is. Adams is in a parking lot wearing a white shirt and dark shorts.
Zoomed in photo provided by SBPD
(SBPD)

According to the police department, the officers yelled commands at Adams before opening fire, but that audio was not captured by the body-worn camera because of a 30-second delay that happens after the equipment is engaged.

The department said that the officers believed Adams was running away to find cover behind a car and fire at them.

In the audio from the body cam footage you can hear an officer telling Adams that he’s going to be okay as his body lays behind a car. Another man can be heard on the tape saying: “You shot my cousin, bro, that’s my best friend bro.”

Adams was taken to San Bernardine Medical Center were he was pronounced dead at 8:41 p.m., less than an hour after the incident began.

The SBPD claimed a loaded handgun was found on scene. Bradley Gage, an attorney representing Adams' family, said Adams was not holding a gun, but a cellphone, when officers arrived.

“It’s outrageous,” Gage said, adding that Adams was speaking to his mother on the phone as the shots were fired.

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“They shot a Black man in the back. He was not firing at them. He was not threatening them, he had committed no criminal act whatsoever,” Gage said.

Use-Of-Force Expert: No 'Overt Threat'

After reviewing the surveillance video and the SBPD video statement that includes some of the body-worn camera footage, Dennis Kenney, use-of-force expert and professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said Adams “did not appear to be making any overt threat” towards officers on the scene.

“It’s not against the law to run from the police and it certainly isn’t an executable offense,” Kenney said.

Kenney said it would be a very narrow range of circumstances that would make the police justified in their actions. But Kenney said he believes the department may have legal footing due to what’s known as the “reasonable officer standard.”

“If they can demonstrate that it’s a known high-crime area, especially if they knew the individual, then they’ve got a much better defense that he was running to take cover and was a danger to them,” Kenney said.

The SBPD said Adams had an “extensive criminal history” and was on “felony probation for armed robbery.”

In an emailed statement, Gage said some of the SBPD’s allegations about criminal history against Adams are “defamatory and irresponsible.” He alleges they conflated Adams with other family members with the same name.

Gage told LAist that the department had false claims against Adams for alleged assault with a deadly weapon, possession of stolen property and engaging in armed robbery with a gun.

“The police have added to the family’s pain by making false statements about Robert’s criminal background, confusing him with two of his family members, also named Robert Adams,” Gage said.

Gage said he’s in the beginning stages of filing a lawsuit on behalf of Adams’ family. The police continues with the investigation.

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