Family of man shot dead by Pennsylvania police officer: ‘We needed help’

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The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave

LANCASTER, Pa. (NewsNation Now) — The video is quick and graphic. It shows 27-year old Ricardo Munoz racing out of a Lancaster row home Sunday afternoon straight toward an arriving police officer, wildly waving a large knife over his head. In the ensuing few seconds, he gains on the retreating officer—the knife held high—before the officer turns and fires. Munoz was pronounced dead at the scene.

It was his family that called 911, but they tell NewsNation the video—as clear as it may be to some—doesn’t tell the whole story.

They say Munoz had serious mental health problems and had been diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic. His mother, Miguelina Peña, speaking through tears while her daughter translated, said of responding Lancaster police, “They’re supposed to be there to protect and serve! That’s their logo, protect and serve!”

“We needed help,” said his sister Deborah Peña. “I didn’t need my brother to be dead. I wanted him to get help—mental help.”

By Sunday night, dozens of protesters filled the streets of the southwestern Pennsylvania city, smashing windows, setting fires, and vandalizing police cars. Away from the TV cameras, some residents in the community of 60-thousand questioned whether what the police video revealed even mattered to the demonstrators, noting that about half of the approximately 8 arrested early Monday were from outside the county. Police reported that guns were recovered from inside the crowd, which was dispersed with tear gas.

Work crews spent Monday afternoon reinforcing the barricades outside police headquarters as crowds of protesters heckled officers and nearby businesses boarded-up windows. 

Local officials, appealing for calm, say they released the video quickly in an effort to be open with the public.

“Any loss of life, regardless of how it happens, is devastating,” said Lancaster police chief Jarrad Berkihiser. “It’s devastating for everybody involved.”

Mayor Danene Sorace made a call for more mental health resources during a Monday press conference, but said of the damage caused by the protests, “I want to be clear that there is no place for this in our community.”

Munoz, records show, was arrested in March of 2019, accused of slashing four people with a knife. The Lancaster County District Attorney’s office is taking the lead in investigating the shooting that took his life. Lancaster police say they’ll be conducting their own investigation to make sure the department’s use of force policies were followed.

The officer involved has been placed on administrative leave.

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