Durham police officers fired twelve shots at La'Vante Biggs on the morning of September 15, 2015. Five entered his body. Biggs, twenty-one, died on the front lawn of his home in east Durham.
The incident had several hallmarks of a suicide-by-cop. Biggs had called the police to the house. When they arrived, he was holding a gun to his head and threatening to kill himself. His mother, Shanika, was in the yard, pleading with him to put it down. Officers negotiated with Biggs for about thirty minutes. Then, according to a Durham Police Department report, Biggs "aggressively took steps" toward one of the officers on the scene, at which point four different officers discharged their weapons, killing him.
Only later did officers discover that Biggs hadn't been holding a real gun, but rather an Airsoft BB gun.
Biggs's family has a lot of questions about what happened in the approximately fifty minutes between the time Biggs called 911 and was shot to death. So does the Durham NAACP, which has been investigating his death. And, after reviewing several documents and audio recordings related to Biggs's shooting, so do we.
On Saturday morning, surrounded by friends and family on the spot where Biggs was killed, Shanika demanded answers. She wants to know why, given that La'Vante set down his gun three separate times during the standoff—once for as long as three minutes—the police did not subdue him with nonlethal weapons. She wants to know why the officer Biggs "aggressive took steps" toward apparently did not feel threatened enough to fire his own weapon. She wants to know why only one of the roughly twenty officers on the scene had crisis intervention training.
"I want to know why the police treated my son's suicide threat like a hostage situation," Shanika tells the INDY. "He was a danger only to himself, and they killed him anyway."
The INDY has sent those questions and more to the DPD. We're waiting to hear back.