A police officer fatally shot a man during a domestic disturbance call in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Sunday, leading to street protests and vandalism during what the mayor called a “heartbreaking day.”
Police posted the officer's body camera video on social media, showing the man chasing the officer down a sidewalk with a knife before he was fatally shot. Police eventually used tear gas early Monday to disperse the crowds.
Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of the diverse city of 59,000 people in the heart of Pennsylvania Amish country following the shooting death of Ricardo Munoz, 27, on Sunday afternoon.
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The crowd formed outside the police station. Police said buildings and government vehicles were damaged by demonstrators, while city officials called for calm and stronger social services to help avoid deadly confrontations with police.
The body camera video posted by police late Sunday showed the officer fire several shots while running away from 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.”
“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.
U.S. Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) also defended the officer's action in a 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," Toomey wrote. "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."
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.
"It's not clear why anyone would protest a police officer defending his own life," Toomey said. "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.