On August 28, Gilbert Flores was shot to death by a San Antonio police officer in a residential neighborhood on the city’s Northwest side. The unedited footage, which was filmed by a passerby and published by a local ABC affiliate, shows Flores being approached by two officers with their guns drawn. Both of Flores’ hands are in the air when he is shot two times. Within hours, he was dead.
Since the footage was released, the story has picked up national attention and caused a stir in San Antonio, bringing tensions between media, the community, and the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office to light. And now, we’re learning that there’s a second video that more clearly depicts what was happening at the time of the shooting — though this video has not yet been released to the public.
The first video
Michael Thomas, a local college student, was working in the neighborhood on August 28 when he heard ambulances and police sirens. Thomas decided to take a quick break from his job to investigate.
Thomas, on CNN:
He thought, “There’s a lot of things going on in the world,” he told CNN on Wednesday, and he decided he’d do what he had seen so many other people in the news doing lately. He pulled out his cell phone, ready to record if needed.
The man, from what Thomas could see, “wasn’t attacking” the officers. “At the time he was shot, it didn’t look like he was posing a threat at all.”
“As the guy and police were going back and forth, the man acted like he was going to run back inside his house, and then ran around the cars by the cop car, and the cops started pursuing closer to him,” Thomas said.
Thomas sold the exclusive rights to the video to KSAT, the local ABC affiliate, for $100. The video was posted KSAT’s website, but was cut short to eliminate the footage of Flores being shot.
Local reporters took to Twitter to argue the ethics of publishing the video, saying that it was highly unethical for KSAT to have paid their source and to have edited the footage.
— Joshua Fechter (@JFreports) August 31, 2015
Here's the $100 video, folks. Brought to you by extreme pressure from the EN newsroom. Heh. https://t.co/KprI2HmQPX
— Josh Baugh (@jbaugh) August 31, 2015
After the Twitter firestorm, KSAT published the entire unedited video. In the video, you can see that Flores has both hands in the air at the time of the shooting. However, his left hand is obscured by a utility pole — a critical detail that law enforcement say makes a huge difference in this case, as he was allegedly brandishing a knife and threatening the officers when he was shot.
After KSAT published the video, The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office took to Facebook to claim that the lives of the officers and other members of the police force have been threatened since the airing of the video.
As the story has unfolded, we’ve learned that Flores had a history of violence. According to multiple police reports, on separate occasions, Flores threatened the lives of his father, an Alamo Community Colleges police officer and his mother.
On the day Flores was killed, police were responding to a domestic violence call. Reports say that Flores had punched and cut his wife and harmed her child, and that once officers arrived on the scene, they attempted to use nonlethal methods to subdue him — but these methods were unsuccessful.
But none of these attempts are captured in the video published by KSAT — we only see part of the altercation, and from a distance. It’s impossible to tell what the officers and Flores were saying to one another. A utility pole obscures Flores’ left hand. It’s not clear when — or even if — Flores lunges at the officers with the knife he was wielding.
The first video is pretty damning. It looks like Flores was shot while surrendering. And that’s why the second video matters so much. Flores is one of 35 people who have been killed by San Antonio police in this past year alone, and the only footage the community has seen is that of a man with his arms raised being gunned down in a residential neighborhood.
Now, I’m not a law enforcement officer, and I can’t say what I would have done if I was in that officer’s shoes. I can’t even begin to imagine what they and members of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office have gone through over the past few weeks.
Here’s what I know: I’ve seen grainy video footage of police shooting and killing a man — a person of color — whose hands were raised, who was what looked like a significant distance away from the officers. And, I know the second video has still not been released to the public, and that we don’t know when it will be. And I think that should make all of us feel a little uneasy.
The shooting of Gilbert Flores has added more to the important conversation that’s happening in San Antonio and in cities across America: that police accountability matters to our communities. It’s our job as civilians to demand transparency from our police departments.
The day after Gilbert Flores was killed, Bexar County approved nearly $1 million for hundreds of body and dashboard cameras for our police department. While it will take time to implement these cameras, it’s certainly a big step in the right direction.