The Washington Post reports…
“Nehemiah Blessed Fischer may have been named after a prophet, but he died in less than holy circumstances.
A video released Monday by Oklahoma Highway Patrol shows Fischer, an associate pastor at a local Tulsa church, pushing a trooper moments before he was shot on Friday.
For authorities, the video is proof that Fischer started the scuffle that ended in his death. For the Fischer family, it’s an uncomfortable but unavoidable epitaph to an otherwise “god-fearing man.”
And for everyone else, it’s a reminder of the dramatic impact of video cameras on law enforcement at a time of increased scrutiny of police shootings around the country.
Fischer died Friday night on a country road about 20 miles outside of Tulsa. He and his older brother, Brandon, had been fishing and doing repairs on their father’s farm when heavy rains caused waist-high flash floods. The brothers’ truck became stuck in a ditch. When someone, perhaps a passerby, called police, two highway patrolmen responded to the scene to help.
But what was supposed to be a roadside rescue quickly became a fatal altercation.
Officials claimed that Fischer, upset over being ordered to leave the truck behind, had attacked the officer. “As they were exiting the water, coming towards the troopers, a confrontation occurred and one of the troopers was actually assaulted,” Oklahoma Highway Patrol Capt. Paul Timmons told CNN Sunday. “And in defense of himself, he fired.”
The family responded with disbelief.
“Neither of them would ever attack or hurt anyone,” said cousin Anthony Fischer in an online message to The Washington Post Sunday. “The cops are covering up evil, and they will be found out.”
“He would not be one to disrespect them or go after [the troopers],” Fischer’s wife, Laura, said Sunday before calling on officials to release dashcam footage of the incident.
But that footage appears to show otherwise.
Capt. Timmons played a short segment of the 30-minute tape for reporters on Monday. The 40-second clip shows patrolmen Michael Taylor and Mark Southall calling for the two brothers to exit the water and clapping their hands.
“Come on out!” one of the officers shouts repeatedly. “Get out of the water. Let’s go!”
Suddenly, the brothers emerge from the darkness into the squad car headlights. It doesn’t appear as if the squad car’s flashing lights are on, one of several reasons why the Fischer family says Nehemiah and Brandon might not have known it was a state trooper shouting at them.
But as the brothers walk up to the patrolmen, one of the officers does identify himself. “Boys, state troopers,” he says. From the video tape, it sounds as if the brothers are talking back to the troopers.
“Settle down, do you hear me?” the officer says. “Settle down.”
The situation escalates in an instant as Nehemiah Fischer, a powerfully built 35-year-old, charges towards the shouting officer and appears to grab him.
“Get on the ground motherf—–!” someone shouts.
“Get him wet!” someone else yells, possibly Brandon Fischer encouraging his brother. (The troopers are seen parked on the dry road while the brothers are soaked from working in the flooded ditch.)
Nehemiah Fischer and the officer tumble out of sight. Seconds later, as the other officer points his gun at Brandon, gunshots ring out. The second officer can be seen scrambling around the squad car, presumably to assist his colleague.
Capt. Timmons said Monday that an investigation into the incident is ongoing and that his department would release the rest of the footage upon formal request, according to local TV station KJRH. The two officers have been placed on administrative leave, per department policy in instances of shootings.
Officials say the video is evidence that the troopers responded appropriately to an assault against them.
“There is no controversy about this,” Gary J. James, an attorney representing Oklahoma troopers, told The Washington Post in an e-mail. “[It’s] all on video and audio from both state troopers vehicles.”
Family members declined to discuss the video on Monday, directing questions to attorney Allen M. Smallwood, who could not be reached for comment.
Despite the release of the video segment, there is still plenty of debate over the shooting. Commenters on KJRH’s story went back and forth over who was to blame.
“[The] officer clearly aggressively steps towards the young men escalating a situation where a reasonable person could use force necessary to repel the assault by the trooper,” wrote one commenter. “The trooper goads the man in a tragic situation where they could have saved his vehicle. Instead the officer chose to goad and mock him refusing assistance.”
“Why is the OHP ordering them out of ankle-knee deep water in the first place?” asked another commenter. “It didn’t look life-threatening. The only real danger in this situation is the OHP.”
“You do realize they were drunk & not obeying the officers to begin with,” replied someone else, referencing Brandon’s arrest for public intoxication. (Officials have not yet released a toxicology report on Nehemiah).
That prompted a sarcastic response from a fourth commenter.
“Yes, killing him was the only way to save him.”