Flowers in memory of La'Vante Biggs
Yesterday, Durham Country District Attorney Roger Echols announced that he had found no probable cause to charge any Durham police officers in the September 2015 death of La'Vante Biggs.
Biggs, clearly suicidal and holding what was later revealed to be a BB gun, was shot and killed following negotiations with DPD officers that lasted about fifty minutes. Four officers fired a total of twelve shots at Biggs, five of which entered his body.
Last month, Biggs's family stood outside the Angier Avenue house where their son was shot
and demanded answers.
"I want to know why the police treated my son's suicide threat like a hostage situation," Biggs' mother, Shanika, said. "He was a danger only to himself, and they killed him anyway."
The State Bureau of Investigation automatically reviews officer-involved shootings and prepares a report. Echols took the SBI report, the medical examiner's report, and a forensics report into account when making his decision. In a release, Echols said:
"The events of September 5,2015 were extremely unfortunate and undoubtedly tragic. However, there is no evidence in the State Bureau of Investigations investigative file that rises to willful, malicious or criminally negligent conduct by law enforcement or that the use of force by law enforcement was unreasonable or excessive."
One very large question mark surrounding Biggs' death has to do with the fact that he set his gun down at several points during the negotiations—sometimes for as long as three minutes. Why did officers not subdue him with a non-lethal weapon? Echols wrote:
"On the occasions that La'Vante placed the gun down, the officers engaged in conversation with La'Vante and asked him to walk away from the gun and towards them. However, La'Vante never walked any further than four to six steps away from the gun leaving a much shorter distance between him and the gun that would have at any point existed between him and the closest officer or the distance between the closest officer and the gun."
Previously, police had offered little in the way of detail about what happened in the moments before the officers fired on Biggs. What did Biggs finally do that caused them to shoot?
"Immediately before the shooting, La'Vante raised the gun at shoulder level towards officers while he took one to three steps forward. After those actions by La'Vante," the officers fired, killing him.
The five-day report issued last September by DPD stated that Biggs' "aggressive steps" in the moments before his death were toward an officer that was not one of the four who ultimately fired on him. If that officer did not feel sufficiently threatened, why did the others? The Echols report does not address this question.
Shanika Biggs tells the INDY
that she's "saddened but not surprised" by Echols' decision. Though the squad cars at the scene were parked in such a way where the dash-cam video didn't capture the negotiation or shooting, she had hoped that a video from ABC 11, which was at the scene, might hold some answers. Before Echols made his decision, she requested he obtain a court order to get the video.
"But what he got was the edited video—what they showed on TV," Biggs says. "We didn't get to see the unedited video. We were told the news station deletes unedited video two or three weeks after the segment airs. So it doesn't look like we will ever learn anything from that video."
Next Saturday, May 28, at 6:30 p.m., the Biggs family will gather at CCB Plaza in downtown Durham for a remembrance of La'Vante. He would have turned twenty-two on May 27.
"We wanted to have a positive moment for him, a positive occasion for those who loved him to gather and remember him," Shanika says. "I don't know where we go from here. But our fight for justice will continue."