East Cleveland officer turns off body camera right before shooting 18-year-old carjacking suspect; cries after pulling trigger

Police officer turns off body camera right before shooting 18-year-old carjacking suspect

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 News investigators obtained body camera footage of the moments before and after East Cleveland Police say an officer shot and killed a carjacking suspect.

The shooting itself, however, was not caught on camera, according to the department.

We only received a three second clip from Sgt. Larry MacDonald’s body camera.

Body camera video of moments before, after East Cleveland officer fatally shot carjacking suspect

Body camera video of moments before, after East Cleveland officer fatally shot carjacking suspect https://bit.ly/2JZdvBe

Posted by Cleveland 19 News on Thursday, January 7, 2021

Officials say McDonald is the one who shot and killed 18-year-old Vincent Belmonte during a police pursuit on Tuesday.

You can see McDonald reach down and turn off his camera moments before pulling the trigger.

Chief Scott Gardner tells us it’s unclear why and whether it was a mistake.

In an email, Gardner said, “It appears while the officer was running, that he pushed the button and deactivated the camera. You should see a quick, around three second video, of an officer running with his radio in his hand. That is all that was recorded from his body camera. I can only speculate as to what happened. It is probable, as it happens often, that the officer did not hear the beep from the body camera to indicate that it was on, and he pushed it again in attempts to activate it. However, again, that is pure speculation.”

So, now we’re left without video to corroborate what the chief told us about the suspect’s actions Tuesday.

“[Belmonte] jumped over the fence, turned towards officers made his statement, ‘you’re going to have to kill me,’ and grabbed his gun,” Gardner said on scene Tuesday.

The body camera blunder comes just three weeks after East Cleveland City Council Vice President Juanita Gowdy expressed a direct concern to the mayor during a recorded public meeting about Sgt. McDonald.

On December 17th, Gowdy said, “So I need you to make a commitment that Larry McDonald have the body camera on every time he leaves this building.”

19 Investigates confirmed in November that McDonald is already under a separate investigation by the FBI. He was accused by another officer of trying to steal drug evidence after a traffic stop this fall.

“I will make the commitment. That is policy that he has that on,” Mayor Brandon King told Gowdy last month.

Gowdy followed up by asking, “So, if I see him right now he should have his body camera on> That is what you are trying to say?”

King responded by saying, “If there is an interaction and he is in uniform at work, yes he should.”

Other officers who were on scene Tuesday had their cameras rolling the whole time, beginning with the moment they engaged in a pursuit in their patrol cars.

Their footage also shows McDonald acting upset and crying after the shooting.

McDonald gives bits and pieces of what happened, saying, “[The suspect] went to grab that gun, and man, I didn’t know what to [expletive] do... [the suspect] went to pull that [expletive] and I shot him, man.”

We’re not showing it because it is too graphic, but in part of the body camera video, it is apparent that the suspect is shot in the upper side of his chest. And, he’s clutching a gun when EMS arrives.

For those reasons, officers defend McDonald’s actions until the moment he left the scene.

“You had no choice sir. You’re good man,” one officer said. “It was clean as ever. it was you or him. You did good baby.”

We are still waiting on the official autopsy report.

Ohio BCI is now handling the shooting investigation, but it could take weeks for the independent state investigators to rule on whether the shooting is justified.

We asked whether McDonald was reprimanded for failing to record the incident, Chief Gardner said in an email, “Although we are running a concurrent internal investigation, we typically wait for the criminal investigation to be complete prior to the imposing of any possible discipline. The officer has been on administrative leave since the incident and has not even been spoken to by us or BCI pending the three day cool off period. Both officers are represented by legal counsel at this point.”

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