About 20 minutes into an uneventful traffic stop and drug scan, the lights on Cornelius Warren's Tahoe flashes almost without warning. A split second later on a police video of the incident, the SUV kicks up a cloud of dust as it lurches away from police.
But a county activist who viewed the tape before the sheriff's office released it Wednesday said he believes someone altered the video between when he saw it last month and when it was made available to the press.
"What you saw on the video is not what we've seen. It's been tampered with," county NAACP President William Braxton said.
The dashboard camera footage released Wednesday, which captured the last few moments of Warren's life, shows sheriff's officer Stephen Miller swing his body into the sport utility vehicle as it speeds off-screen, another police cruiser following close behind. The video didn't record the ensuing struggle, which happened outside the camera's line of sight. But police say that after the SUV accelerated down a Pisgah driveway, Warren tried to wrestle away Miller's handgun. A pair of sheriff's officers shot at Warren 11 times, hitting him with eight of the bullets, authorities believe.
The footage, which is without sound, charts the Oct. 2 incident, from a traffic stop at a gravel driveway about a mile from Warren's home to the search of his Chevrolet Tahoe and the alleged discovery of crack cocaine and marijuana worth more than $16,000, according to police. It was after the drugs were allegedly discovered that Warren, 44, threw his SUV into gear and drove a short distance around the circular driveway, where sheriff's officers fired the rounds that ended his life.
While Warren's family and the county chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People have condemned the shooting, a grand jury last week found that the officers' actions didn't constitute a crime. The Charles County State's Attorney's Office concluded the shooting was "not unreasonable" given the danger Warren posed to the officers when he tried to grab Miller's gun.
"We're going to be second-guessed every time we use deadly force, and that's appropriate," said Maj. Joseph Montminy during a Wednesday press conference.
However, he cautioned against "Monday morning quarterbacking" and said "the deputy was in a life-and-death situation that all unfolded in a matter of seconds."
Braxton alleged that in the version of the tape he saw during a meeting with Sheriff Rex W. Coffey last month, Miller climbed into the SUV and shut the door before the Tahoe started to move.
"We … are going to talk to the sheriff's department to explain what we saw and see if he's going to look us in the eye and tell us the tapes haven't been altered," he said.
Diane Richardson, spokeswoman for the sheriff's office, said apart from masking the face of Warren's passenger, the sheriff's office hasn't changed the footage since showing it to NAACP members.
The passenger, whose name has not been released, has his face obscured by digital manipulation in the video released Wednesday.
"It is unfortunate Mr. Braxton is questioning our integrity," she said. "The video we released to the media is the same video that was shown to Mr. Braxton immediately following the shooting with the exception that we did protect the passenger's face."
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