LANCASTER, Pa. - A police officer fatally shot a man with a knife after his sister said she called police to get him involuntarily committed, leading to street protests and vandalism in what the mayor of the small Pennsylvania city of Lancaster called a “heartbreaking day.”.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Lancaster following the shooting death of Ricardo Munoz, 27, on Sunday afternoon. The crowd formed outside the police station, where the department stated multiple buildings and government vehicles were damaged by demonstrators.
Munoz was fatally shot after coming out of a home and chasing the officer with a knife, police said. Body camera video showed the officer fire several shots at Munoz, who then falls to the ground.
Munoz’s body lay on the sidewalk for nearly four hours while the Lancaster County prosecutor's office investigated, Lancaster Online reported. The officer was placed on administrative leave, the mayor's office said in a statement calling it “a heartbreaking day for our city.”
"My brother was a sweet, kind person that was sick. He wasn’t a criminal. He was just sick. He needed help," his sister said.
She says her brother was bipolar, schizophrenic and was not taking his medication on Sunday when he ran out of the home.
“I grieve for the loss of life and know that there are more questions to be answered as the investigation continues,” Mayor Danene Sorace said in the statement.
It was unclear how motivated protesters were by racism, as they have been in other cities where deaths at the hands of police have stoked protest. Court papers list Munoz’s race as white.
The city council president, Ismail Smith-Wade-El, said that said more long-term investment must be made in crucial human services, such as mental health care support for adults, housing, crisis intervention and social workers.
“I cannot help but wonder, if Mr. Munoz got all the care he needed years ago, could we possibly be in a different place, could his family and could that officer all be in a different place,” Smith-Wade-El said in a news conference Monday.
Court papers show Munoz had four counts of aggravated assault against him pending in court in a case filed last year.
“We ask that acts of protest remain peaceful as violence and destruction of property will become headlines and serve no purpose for the safety and wellbeing of our citizens and neighborhoods,” District Attorney Heather Adams said in a news release late Sunday.
As for the use of “chemical munitions” against protesters early Monday, the police department said in a statement that the crowd had been given several warnings to disperse and that glass bottles, gallon jugs filled with liquid, parts of plastic road barricades and more had been thrown at officers.
Lancaster Online reporter Carter Walker captured video of the moment those munitions were used.
In a statement, the District Attorney's Office said they were reviewing video of the events of early Monday morning and will bring charges against anyone identified as taking part in criminal acts.
"The acts committed overnight were not peaceful acts of protest; the behavior was violent and riotous. Numerous buildings and vehicles were damaged, fires were set – all without regard for the owners and individuals who could have been physically harmed by the riotous actions. Police arrested several individuals and those charges are being filed Monday," read a statement released Monday. "There is much video of what took place overnight, and that footage is being reviewed as part of the ongoing investigation. Individuals identified as actors engaged in criminal acts will be charged."
The DA's office went on to detail some of the events that took place, including rocks being thrown at police, and windows being broken at a Lancaster city police station.
"This office fully supports the right to gather and peacefully protest, however, the riotous behavior exhibited last night is completely unacceptable and will not be tolerated,” Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams said Monday. “Such lawless conduct only takes away from those working with the community to address issues worthy of discussion. Make no mistake, those who cannot peacefully protest and instead resort to violence will be prosecuted and held fully accountable."
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) released the following statement:
“A full-grown man, wielding a large carving knife over his head while charging an officer, obviously poses a mortal threat to that officer. In general, police officers in this type of situation are well within their rights to use deadly force to protect themselves and the public. The body camera footage released by the Lancaster City Bureau of Police seems to detail this exact scenario. It’s not clear why anyone would protest a police officer defending his own life. However, those who wish to protest should do so peacefully. Destroying property and blocking roadways without a permit, as occurred last night in Lancaster, is not peaceful protesting.”
Picturesque Amish farms surround the city of Lancaster, which itself is 60% white, according to census estimates from 2019, with much larger populations of Black and Latino residents than the rest of Pennsylvania.
The area also is home to a large Mennonite community that has, for years, resettled refugees from around the world, contributing to the area’s diversity, people there say.
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