Just hours after a police officer shot and killed a man during a struggle Monday night, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Rodney Monroe defended the officer’s actions, saying he had no choice.
Michael Deangelo Laney, 28, was shot in the head by one officer, police said, after he tried to pull out a gun while wrestling with another officer.
“They were in fear for their lives,” Monroe said at a news conference Tuesday.
Police said a handgun in Laney’s possession was recovered from the scene.
The late-night shooting triggered tensions in the Biddleville neighborhood just off Beatties Ford Road in northwest Charlotte.
Laney’s relatives told reporters that police overreacted.
Frederick Laney told Qcitymetro.com, a website covering Charlotte’s African-American community, that his cousin was pinned to the ground when he was shot in the head.
“They had him,” Frederick Laney said. “He didn’t never pull no gun out. They had no business shooting him.”
Police said detectives had been working to solve a June 25 armed robbery and shooting along Beatties Ford Road. The suspect in that crime, detectives said, escaped on a red scooter.
Monroe said detectives spotted a red scooter matching the description of the getaway vehicle Monday night in the Beatties Ford Road area but lost sight of it. Those detectives then informed third-shift Metro Division officers to be on the lookout for the scooter.
A little more than an hour after the third shift began at 10:15 p.m., officers spotted a red scooter as it drove along Beatties Ford Road and tried to stop it.
“The suspect failed to stop for the officers until he jumped off the scooter and ran towards his house,” police said in a statement.
The officers caught up with the suspect in the front yard.
Scuffle before the shooting
Police and Laney’s relatives agree that a scuffle broke out as officers tried to subdue Laney on the front lawn.
Monroe says Officer Ryan Shields and Laney got into a wrestling match. The officers saw Laney reaching for a handgun, the police chief said, “from either his waistband or his pocket.”
Shields called for help from Officer Anthony Holzhauer, Monroe said.
“In fear for their lives, Officer Holzhauer discharged his firearm, striking Mr. Laney in the right temple,” Monroe said.
Laney’s relatives told the Observer that the shooting was unnecessary. Frederick Laney said his cousin wasn’t reaching for a gun before he was shot.
Frederick Laney said he saw blue lights just before the confrontation and looked outside. He saw Michael Laney throw down his scooter and come toward the house. An officer tackled Michael Laney in the yard, his cousin said, but he fought the officer off and ran toward the house. Another officer tackled him again, this time on the front porch.
The officers told him to quit resisting, Frederick Laney recalled, as they tried to handcuff him.
He said he heard his cousin say, “You got me. You’re gonna break my arm.”
Then, he said, he heard one officer shout, “Oh my God, he’s got a gun. He’s pulling for something! He’s pulling for something!”
Then Frederick Laney heard the gunshot.
Family rejects police account
Laney’s mother, his girlfriend and their children were also at the home on Crestview Drive at the time of the confrontation. They don’t understand why the officers didn’t simply use a Taser to subdue Laney.
Relatives said Michael Laney grew up in the area. He loved his family, they said, and he had three children age 3 and younger. On his Facebook page, he described himself as a “proud father.”
His family said they don’t believe he was the suspect on the scooter seen fleeing the armed robbery and shooting last week. Frederick Laney said his cousin’s scooter had been broken, and he hadn’t been able to ride it for a month. He just got it fixed Monday.
“They killed him for no reason,” said Tina Laney, his mother.
Monroe disputed the family’s account, saying investigators had talked to witnesses.
“We believe Mr. Laney was in control of his hands,” Monroe said at the news conference. “A part of the gun was in his hands.”
Monroe said he believes the officers had no other option.
“It just got to the point where the officer felt he had lost control of the situation,” he said. “We’re talking about a firearm. We very well could be here, talking about the loss of two officers.”
Laney’s criminal record
Michael Laney was a convicted felon. He was charged twice for possession with intent to sell cocaine in 2001, according to court records. He was found guilty on both those charges and placed on probation for three years. His probation was eventually revoked and he was sent to prison.
Laney also had been convicted twice of resisting an officer.
Holzhauer, who has been with CMPD since January 2010, has been placed on administrative leave pending outcome of an investigation into the shooting.
Shields has been with CMPD since January 2009.
“There is no glory in this,” Monroe said. “I feel for the family. I feel for the officers involved. And I feel for the community.”
A mourning family
Tuesday afternoon, relatives gathered at the home on Crestview Drive as the family mourned Laney’s death.
Children played in the yard, running past marks on the grass spray-painted by police, including an outline of the scooter. Blood stains remained on the concrete porch.
As Tina Laney stood on the porch, one of her young grandchildren came and asked, “Where did they shoot him?”
Here on the porch, she said, in the head.
“Why didn’t they shoot him in the leg?” the boy asked.
Tina Laney shook her head.
“I don’t know.” Staff researcher Maria David contributed