When Sgt. Kyle Holcomb sees someone climb out the window of an abandoned Oklahoma City home, he barks two quick commands. Within a second, before the person has time to comply, Holcomb fires through a hole in the fence: pop-pop-pop-pop.
Two of the four shots hit 14-year-old Lorenzo Clerkley. The officer was placed on administrative leave following the March shooting but has since returned to full duty after being cleared of criminal wrongdoing.
Though Lorenzo’s mother, Cherelle Lee, feels fortunate to have her son with her today, she isn’t satisfied with the prosecutor’s decision to clear Holcomb. She wants answers. Chief among them: Why didn’t Holcomb give Lorenzo time to heed his orders?
“Everything happened so quick,” she told CNN. “There was no reason he should’ve fired off anyway just because he could’ve ended up taking his life.”
Oklahoma City police say Lorenzo had a replica pistol — one resembling a Beretta — and he didn’t drop it when ordered. A replica gun was recovered near the spot where Lorenzo was standing, police spokesman Capt. Bo Mathews said. It had mud on it from where Lorenzo dropped it after being shot, he said.
It is not clear from bodycam footage if Lorenzo is holding a weapon, but the teen contests the police account. He concedes that he and his five buddies were playing with BB guns but says he didn’t have a weapon in his hand when he was shot.
Lorenzo and his mother feel Holcomb, who is white, treated the black teens differently than he would have treated white kids, an assertion the police department and union deny.
The teen was treated for non-life-threatening injuries. This week, almost two months after the shooting, four scars from the entry and exit wounds on his thigh and hip remain fresh. He and his pals stand charged as juveniles with breaking and entering, Mathews said.
‘I think it’s a cap gun’
Lorenzo and five friends had plans to shoot hoops the afternoon of March 10, but the rain forced them to find another way to spend their time, he told CNN. With five BB guns among them, they entered what Lorenzo’s lawyer says is a long-abandoned home — one that has become a playground and hide-and-seek venue for neighborhood kids — and began shooting mirrors and other objects inside.
The gun Lorenzo was playing with wasn’t loaded, he said. He was just shooting air. At some point, he put down the gun to inspect the back yard.
Police, meanwhile, were responding to a 911 call that several individuals, two of them armed, were breaking into a house in southeast Oklahoma City.
Holcomb’s body camera shows him approach the house. Off camera, an officer says, “Hey, police department. Come on out!” It isn’t clear to whom his order was directed or whether it was acknowledged. Lorenzo says he had no idea police were outside.
About 22 seconds later, as Holcomb walks along a wooden fence, faint pops are heard in the distance. He calls it in: “I think it’s a cap gun, but they are shooting something off.”
Several boards are missing from the high wooden fence. As Holcomb peers through a hole, his gun drawn, Lorenzo exits the house. The boy said the back door was locked so he climbed out the window.
“Show me your hands! Drop it!” Holcomb says and immediately upon issuing the second command opens fire, hitting Lorenzo.
“Drop the gun!” the officer says.
The sergeant reports into his radio, “Shots fired! Shots fired! Black male with a grey hoodie had the gun!”
More officers converge on the home and begin taking Lorenzo’s friends into custody.
At one point, Holcomb tells another officer, “He’s the one that had a gun.”
The officer asks the teen, “You had a gun?”
“I didn’t have a gun,” Lorenzo responds.
Officer cleared of wrongdoing
“Sergeant Holcomb could see the suspect had a gun in his hand and gave the suspect verbal commands to drop the gun,” a police statement said. “The suspect did not comply with the orders and Sergeant Holcomb discharged his firearm and struck the suspect.”
Holcomb, who has been with the department for almost a decade, was put on paid leave, and an Oklahoma County prosecutor decided last month that Holcomb will not face criminal charges. The sergeant has returned to full duty, the officer’s attorney Curt Dewberry, said this week. An internal affairs investigation is ongoing.
“I have not seen any information that shows anything other than the fact that the suspect was armed at the time he was fleeing the house after the police announced their presence,” Dewberry said.
Other officers’ body cameras provide “different angles … more context, more data about what those officers were being told when they were responding to the call,” the attorney said.
John George, president of the Oklahoma City Fraternal Order of Police, also believes the shooting was justified, he said.
“In this case, this was a replica-type handgun that looks identical to a duty weapon,” he said. “It’s incredibly accurate, so our officer couldn’t tell the difference.”
The union chief has no misgivings about the speed with which Holcomb opened fire, he said.
Lorenzo turned “toward him and pointed a gun at him. If somebody’s pointing a gun at you, you don’t even have to give the command. Your life’s in danger at that point. … At that moment in time, it’s justifiable,” George said.
Dan Smolen, an attorney representing Lee and Lorenzo, sees it differently. He’s disturbed by how quickly Holcomb fired after telling Lorenzo, “Drop it!” He also feels Holcomb overreacted, especially considering that the sergeant can be heard surmising that the pops came from a cap gun.
“That officer heard what was being fired, acknowledged that it was a toy gun and still fired shots anyway,” Smolen said. “We know what his thoughts were just seconds before the shooting took place.”
‘He didn’t even give no time’
While Lorenzo insists he was not holding a weapon when he exited the window, his mother, regardless, believes Holcomb should’ve shown restraint, she said.
“Even if he had a BB gun,” Lee said, “you still have a protocol to sit there and ask him and command him to do what you need him to do, and once he’s not following that first command, then you take action on what you need to do from there.”
“It traumatizes me, myself, to understand that: Hey, you were this close from taking my baby’s life — for nothing,” she said.
Lorenzo said he didn’t hear any policemen identify themselves, nor did he realize police were outside. He was trying to put his hands up when Holcomb shot him, he said.
“By the time, I went out the window, I heard a voice say, ‘Freeze!’ and I jumped and looked to the right of me, and then he didn’t even give me no time to do anything — put my hands in the air, anything — and he just fired,” Lorenzo said.
Lorenzo fell back into the window and momentarily blacked out, he said. He didn’t realize he’d been shot until later. He was in pain as officers dragged him across the side yard of the house, a moment of which can be seen on Holcomb’s bodycam.
As Lorenzo lies face down in the grass, hands cuffed behind his back, an officer says, “Looks like just a flesh wound.” Another officer says, “Help me drag this guy,” the footage shows.
Lorenzo is moaning when Holcomb walks over and asks where he was hit. Lorenzo responds, “My side,” and Holcomb lifts his left arm.
“No, my other side. It’s, like, my hip,” Lorenzo tells him.
Holcomb moves Lorenzo’s pants and underwear to reveal a bullet wound. “You’re OK,” he says and tells Lorenzo to be still.
“I got fire and (paramedics) coming,” he says. “I don’t want to stand you up and have you walk, OK? I want you to just stay right there because I don’t want anything to move or anything like that, OK?”
Later, he says, “You’re not going to die, all right? You’re not going to die. Fire and (paramedics) are on their way. Just stay still.”
Other officers arrive, and a subsequent inspection of the boy’s wounds reveals the second gunshot wound to his thigh.
Lorenzo told CNN the incident has left his faith in law enforcement shaken.
“I just feel like officers, when it comes to black kids, they treat them different than white kids, and it’s hard,” he said. “I feel like I’m not even protected by the cops no more. I feel like they’re against me now.”
If he could talk to Holcomb, he’d tell him “that I’m actually a good kid, that I follow directions and stuff like that. He just didn’t give me time to follow his directions.”
By Ed Lavandera and Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN