Video shows deadly police shooting

Review of footage shows Rivera shot while fleeing; police say they have evidence that justifies their use of force

A video of the shooting of Rafael “Pito” Rivera shows he was running from police when an officer shot him twice at close range, according to an Investigative Post review of the footage.

The video shows Rivera falling as he turns off Plymouth Avenue into the parking lot of the former School 77 about 3:15 a.m. Wednesday. He crawls several feet, gets up and runs several steps until a police officer about 10 to 15 feet away fires two shots. Rivera falls to the ground, motionless.

Rivera does not point a weapon at officers in the video, which shows only the conclusion of what was a chase of up to two blocks. A handgun that police said Rivera was carrying is not readily visible in the video.


Listen to Jim Heaney discuss the footage of the shooting on WBFO


A police source, who has viewed the same video, said there’s more than meets the eye in the video, and that the footage does not reflect all the evidence police have collected. For example, the source said Rivera, when he fell, tried unsuccessfully to stuff a handgun down a sewer grate in the parking lot and then continued to flee with the weapon. The source said Rivera does not have a gun license.

The video shows police appearing to immediately handcuff Rivera and then backing away, not providing him any first aid. The police source said officers, who are trained only in basic first aid, called for an ambulance almost immediately, and that Rivera died almost instantly after being shot. The ambulance arrived about 5 minutes after Rivera was shot, and shortly thereafter paramedics declared him dead at the scene.

The police source said an autopsy found Rivera suffered three wounds: a shot that grazed his forehead, a second shot that entered him from the front and a third shot in the back.

Investigative Post, along with reporters from The Buffalo News and Spectrum News, watched the footage Saturday morning at the office of Steve Cohen, who is representing the Rivera family. Cohen, litigation chair at the law firm HoganWillig, is not releasing the video at the request of the family. The video was taken from a surveillance camera at School 77, which houses PUSH Buffalo, other community organizations, and apartments.

“It would appear to not only be an unjustified police shooting, it would appear to me that a crime was committed by a police officer,” Cohen told Investigative Post.

If Deputy Commissioner [Joseph] Gramaglia says that what is justified is taking another human life when they are running away from a police officer, then none of us are safe.”

Gramaglia, the deputy police commissioner, said Wednesday the officer was justified in firing shots after police responded to a report of a man with a gun near Plymouth and Massachusetts avenues. Police said they encountered a man with a gun and gave chase.

“It got to a point where the officer had to stop the immediate threat and had to discharge his own weapon,” Gramaglia told news outlets Wednesday.

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“The suspect refused multiple requests by the officer to put the gun down. At that time, the officer discharged his service weapon to stop the immediate threat the suspect posed.”

The fatal shots were fired by Elnur Karadzhaev, who has been on the force two years. He has been placed on paid administrative leave. The Erie County District Attorney’s office is investigating.

Cohen said he is forwarding the tape to a number of investigatory agencies.

“I’m looking forward to seeing justice done,” he said.

Three men of color have died during encounters with police since last year: Wardell “Meech” Davis, in February 2017; Jose Hernandez-Rossy, in May of last year; and now Rivera.