It was supposed to be a new start for Rashaun Washington.
The New Jersey father of two struggled with addiction and had moved out of a halfway home just four months ago, Washington’s dad, Reginald Miller, told NBC10 Tuesday afternoon. He struggled to find a job while also attempting to reconnect with his 11-year-old and 13-year-old kids, Miller said.
But on Saturday, Washington, 37, died during a confrontation with Vineland police. Witnesses recorded the encounter.
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Miller has watched the death of his son several times. He became so enraged by one viewing that he punched his back door and fractured a finger.
The blessing, he said, is the recorded evidence of what happened that day.
“The curse is the kids, the grandkids, the cousins, nieces, nephews - you can’t let them see that. You can traumatize his kids for the rest of their lives,” Miller said.
Video footage of the encounter shows police officers yelling at a shirtless man who appeared to be pacing back and forth in front of a house. They instructed him to back down, but Washington was agitated and did not cooperate. At least one rifle was pointed at him during the confrontation, according to the video.
Soon, shots rang out and Washington dropped to the ground. A police dog lunged at Washington. Miller said the dog bit his son’s face as he died.
“There’s all these officers and everybody’s got guns pointed at him. They got high-powered assault rifles. They got a dog barking at him and he’s got nothing in his hand but a water bottle and a T-shirt,” Miller said. “He had to feel threatened with everybody pointing everything at him.”
Washington’s death is under investigation. The police officer who discharged his weapon is on paid administrative leave per departmental policy, according to the Cumberland County Prosecutor’s Office.
Peter Alfinito with the Burlington County Fraternal Order of Police watched the video with NBC10 and said responding officers faced too much uncertainty during their encounter with Washington.
"Two minutes is a lifetime when you are with someone ... who is not cooperating," he said.
But Miller’s grief is not assuaged. He wants to know why police didn’t use other means to subdue his son.
“Why did he have to die in that matter? None of that had to happen,” Miller said.
Washington “was no angel,” Miller admitted. He had previously been arrested for drugs and did not have a close relationship with his kids. Still, “he was a jokester,” Miller said.
“His thing was laughter,” he added. “Everything about him was making somebody else laugh.”
Responding police officers would not have known that.
“They’re doing their No. 1 job - protecting society,” Alfinito said. “Is he on drugs, does he have a mental problem, is he wanted for homicide?”
All of those variables might have flashed through the minds of police as they encountered Washington.
Still, Miller insisted, things could have ended differently.
“This is not the answer. Shooting people down is not the answer,” he said. “I want justice.”
Washington’s death comes one month after 17-year-old Antwon Rose was killed by Pittsburgh police. The shooting sparked protests even as the officer was charged with homicide.
Rose’s death and now Washington’s fuels a distrust of police among black and brown communities, Miller said. Two years ago, he feared for his own life after being pulled over during a routine traffic stop. Miller threw his hands out of the window and hesitated to even reach into a pocket for his wallet, he said.
“There is a real fear of cops that, no matter what, I’m done,” Miller said. “I don’t want to see a cop dead, but I don’t want to see my son dead.”