Outrage is building, and Louisiana State Police are investigating, after a 31-year-old Black man was fatally shot by police in the city of Lafayette on Friday.
According to video footage and eyewitness reports, Lafayette police officers fired at least 10 shots at Trayford Pellerin as he walked away from them and towards an occupied convenience store. Legal organizations and community members are decrying the shooting as an excessive use of force, and demanding transparency and justice for Pellerin.
The incident is the latest in a string of high-profile police killings of Black people, including Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, that sparked nationwide protests against racism and police violence earlier this summer. The Acadiana Advocate reports the incident is the third officer-involved shooting by the Lafayette Police Department in roughly five weeks.
The Louisiana State Police said in a statement that around 8 p.m. on Friday, Lafayette Police responded to a "disturbance involving a person armed with a knife at a convenience store."
State Police said the officers encountered Pellerin in the parking lot and attempted to apprehend him there, but ended up pursuing him for roughly half a mile on foot as he left the scene. Officers deployed Tasers in pursuit "but they were ineffective," according to the statement.
The statement said officers started shooting when Pellerin, reportedly still armed with a knife, attempted to enter a different convenience store along NW Evangeline Throughway. Following the flurry of gunfire, he was transported to an area hospital and later pronounced dead.
The LPD requested that the Louisiana State Police Bureau of Investigations look into the shooting; the state police said that investigation is "active and ongoing."
Interim Lafayette Police Chief Scott Morgan said the officers involved have been placed on administrative leave with pay while the investigation is underway.
Rickasha Montgomery, a witness who captured a video of the shooting, told the Lafayette Daily Advertiser that she saw Pellerin holding what appeared to be a knife, walking down Evangeline Thruway away from police as they Tased him. She said she saw about six officers with their guns drawn yell for Pellerin to get on the ground, and that they shot him when he reached the door of a Shell gas station.
"I feel kind of scared about it," Montgomery told the newspaper. "I'm traumatized. You're so used to hearing about this, but I never thought I would experience it."
Graphic bystander video of the shooting has since circulated on social media. (NPR has not independently verified video of the incident).
Michelle Pellerin, the victim's mother, told The Acadiana Advocate on Saturday she was in disbelief.
"I'm still trying to understand what happened," she said. "Why did it have to go this far? Why him? Everybody talks about the video, but I haven't seen it and I don't want to see it. I can't."
She described her oldest son as "kind, intelligent, quiet and shy." She said he loved to cook, was close with his extended family and worked odd jobs but was thinking about returning to school and possibly studying law.
She said he suffered from anxiety related to social situations and being in groups of people, something he sought professional help for earlier this year. Pellerin told the newspaper she believes her son may have been particularly frightened by the group of officers coming at him.
Civil rights attorney Ben Crump, one of the lawyers retained by the family, told the newspaper that the family believes Pellerin may have been experiencing a mental health crisis at the time of his death.
Crump, who also represents the families of Floyd and Taylor, said in a statement that he and co-counsel Ronald Haley "refuse to let this case resolve like so many others: quietly and without answers and justice."
Haley told The Advocate that even if a knife was present, eyewitness video shows there was no one in Pellerin's vicinity and if he was a danger to anyone, he was only a danger to himself. Crump said officers should have been able to find alternatives to lethal force. The attorneys say a civil lawsuit is planned.
"The family, and the people of Lafayette, deserve honesty and accountability from those who are sworn to protect them — the Lafayette Police," Crump wrote. "The officers involved should be fired immediately for their abhorrent and fatal actions."
The ACLU of Louisiana and the Southern Poverty Law Center also condemned the shooting. Both said accounts show police shooting Pellerin as he walked away from them, and called for investigations into what they called the officers' "excessive use of force."
They also noted that the shooting comes amidst an ongoing reckoning over "the epidemic of police violence," particularly against Black people, with demonstrators across the country already calling for police reform.
"None of our communities are safe when the police can murder people with impunity or when routine encounters escalate into deadly shooting sprees," said Alanah Odoms Hebert, executive director of the ACLU of Louisiana.
Lafayette Mayor-President Josh Guillory defended the officers' "numerous efforts to de-escalate the situation" in a statement issued Saturday.
"The officers opened fire when it became apparent the armed individual was attempting to enter a convenience store, threatening the lives of the customers and workers inside," he said, adding that city police and officials will cooperate fully with the investigation.
Guillory said law enforcement and other front line personnel remain focused on the safety of the community, especially as the state braces for a potential back-to-back storms early in the week.
Law enforcement clashed with protesters on Saturday when an initially-peaceful rally turned chaotic.
The Acadiana Advocate reports that what started as a community protest against police violence ended with officers in riot gear launching smoke grenades into the crowd and at least two protesters arrested.
Demonstrators gathered at the site of the shooting and gradually spilled over into the roadway, chanting "No justice, no peace." By 6:45 p.m., some 150 protesters had crowded into the street, blocking traffic.
According to The Advocate, "rocks and water bottles were thrown" at police cars as the crowd headed back to the Shell gas station, and some protesters targeted vehicles on the roadway. Around 8:15 p.m., police in riot gear told the crowd to disperse or face arrest. Several dozen protesters stayed put, at which point the officers began advancing on the group and throwing smoke grenades.
The crowd broke up into smaller groups within about 20 minutes, as law enforcement left the area to respond to other scenes.
Officials later said that people had shot fireworks at buildings and set fires in the roadway, and that an unspecified number of arrests were made. Some protesters are blaming outsiders for causing destruction.
At a press conference, officials praised the organizers of the vigil and blamed the share of attendees who had escalated it. City and law enforcement officials said they support peaceful protest but will not tolerate violence or unlawful acts.
Sheriff Mark Garber warned against out-of-town agitators who might promote violence at future protests, and said law enforcement is prepared to confront them if necessary.
Guillory, the mayor-president, said "we will not put up with terrorism."
"This is our city," said Lafayette Fire Chief Robert Benoit. "Let's protect our city, let's protect our first responders, and let's do the right thing, and let the courts handle whatever they have to handle."