Caught on Film?
By Tommy A. Purvis
Cops say they shot a dangerous parolee in Temecula—but alleged video footage and conflicting accounts muddy the waters
Twenty-four hours before law enforcement made what several social media critics feel was an organized effort to blackout media coverage to the fiery end of the Christopher Dorner manhunt near Big Bear, another fugitive from justice—29-year-old John Christopher Armes of Fallbrook—was shot and killed by a still unnamed parole officer in Temecula.
What makes this case interesting—even odd—is the fact that at least two claims have arisen stating that an unnamed bystander videotaped the Temecula incident, and that this footage purportedly shows the shooting was unjustified. Naturally, the authorities deny that anything like this happened.
Word of the footage allegedly taken at the Feb. 11 scene—the residential neighborhood along the 40200 block of Mimulus Way—by an unnamed citizen with a camera phone was first made public on the Facebook comment section of The Press-Enterprise article that detailed the official (read: police) version of the shooting.
Luis Patino, a spokesperson for the the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR), told the Weekly that Armes was under surveillance at the Extended Stay Inn at Jefferson Avenue and Overland Drive with jurisdictional assistance from the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department.
Armes—who was reported to have a gun—left the hotel in a mini-van taxi with a female at 12:30 that afternoon. Authorities followed the cab for a few minutes before making an effort to capture the parolee-at-large that was wanted for assault with a deadly weapon. The driver fled on foot. The fugitive momentarily took control of the vehicle before he hit—a minor collision—an unmarked police vehicle. Armes was fatally shot after he exited the taxi.
Corrections officials told The Press-Enterprise that Armes was trying to escape and appeared to have been reaching for a weapon. The Riverside County Sheriff’s Central Homicide Unit and the Department of Corrections Deadly Force Investigations Team is investigating the officer-involved shooting. A spokesperson from either agency would not reveal if Armes was in fact found to be armed. The Office of the Inspector General’s Bureau of Independent Review (BIR) was also made aware of the shooting.
Shortly after The Press-Enterprise article was posted online, “Jennifer Hammons” posted the following comment:
“Maybe the BIR should review the video taken of the shooting taken by a bystander. The video didn’t appear to justify the shooting of what appears to be shots to the suspect’s back while running away from the undercover officers. Suspect in the video, did not appear too have a weapon . . . “
The following morning user “alaRobear” posted the following comment on a news article from the Southwest Riverside News Network (SWRNN) website:
“ . . . Why did they arrest the innocent bystander who was videotaping the whole incident? From all my info, he heard the shots, stopped what he was doing and started recording. Then the officer turned and saw him, walked over and asked him if he was recording. When the person said, no the officer asked to have his phone. He said no, he couldn’t have it. The officer got mad and put him in cuffs & took him in to the station . . .”
Carlos Miller, an activist multimedia journalist based in Miami who runs the the First Amendment rights Photography is Not a Crime (PINAC) blog, was first to report about the alleged footage. Miller became aware of the “alaRobear” and “Hammons” postings, and posted their claims/questions on his blog.
Kerri Mabee, editor of SWRNN, told the Weekly that her own news agency didn’t get on the scene until about five hours after the shooting.
Finally—of all people—law enforcement confirmed what everyone had been saying. Sgt. Lisa McConnell of the Riverside Sheriff Department told the Weekly via email that a bystander who wishes to remain anonymous had in fact been filming from the scene of the shooting. But she told the Weekly that the agency did not arrest the person, and her agency not become aware of the footage until after the incident. No Sherriff’s Department personnel ordered the bystander to stop filming as authorities didn’t know the incident was being recorded until afterward, she said.
So, apparently, there was someone filming the incident, and that somebody (who remains unknown) was supposedly not arrested. But it doesn’t answer the question of whether or not the footage shows whether the police shooting was justified or not.
On Feb. 13, a “Mr temecula” posted a comment under Mabee’s Feb. 12 account of the shooting: “why the f*** did the[y] shoot him?”
Neither the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department or the CDCR will comment further on the shooting as these agencies say the investigation is still pending.