Newly released video captured by an Arizona police officer’s body camera captures the chilling moment when a deranged suspect drew a gun and fired the bullet that killed the officer last month.
Rookie Flagstaff Police Officer Tyler Stewart’s camera caught the entire, deadly encounter with Robert Smith, whose girlfriend had called police on Dec. 27 to report he had trashed her apartment. The video, released by the police department in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, begins with Stewart getting out of his squad car and ends with Smith pointing the gun at him and firing.
Smith then shot himself dead, and Stewart, who was 24, later died at a hospital.
"Officer Stewart was murdered by Smith without any provocation or warning," Sgt. Margaret Bentzen told the Arizona Daily Sun. "There were no homicidal or suicidal indications from Smith prior to the crime."
The frightening, 14-minute video comes as the Justice Department is encouraging police departments around the nation to invest in the body cameras following high-profile cases in which police have been criticized, including last August’s police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo.
"Officer Stewart was murdered by Smith without any provocation or warning."
- Flagstaff, Ariz., Police Sgt. Margaret Bentzen
Stewart and Smith speak outside Smith's Flagstaff home on Dec. 27 for about three minutes as Smith stands with his hands in his jacket pockets. When Stewart asks him if he has any weapons on him, Smith replies, “No, sir. I'm just cold,” and says he only has “smokes” in his pocket.
Stewart then calmly asks if he can check Smith for weapons. When he reaches toward him, Smith draws a .22-caliber revolver from his right pocket and fires six times at Stewart. Five shots hit Strewart, four in the head and one in the lower back.
One of Smith's roommates told police that Smith had been contemplating suicide, according to police reports.
Stewart had gone to Smith’s girlfriend’s home earlier, but the man who would later kill him was gone. The cop then went to Smith's home, where his roommate said Smith had fled, according to a police report. Records indicate that about an hour later, at 12.30 p.m., Smith called the Flagstaff Police Department and left a message for Stewart, who then went back to Smith’s home where the fatal encounter took place.
“This is an enormous tragedy for our department and the family of our officer,” Flagstaff Police Chief Kevin Treadway told AZ Central. “We are a very close-knit organization, and know that all members of the Flagstaff Police Department are grieving at this time.”
Release of the frightening footage raises questions about balancing the public's right to know against privacy concerns of police officers and their families, according to Levi Bolton Jr., executive director of the 14,000-member Arizona Police Association. On Wednesday, Bolton met with state lawmakers to discuss the cameras and how best to handle disclosure of footage that may show innocent bystanders, undercover police or informants or, as in Stewart's case, the final moments of an officer's life.
"We are currently crafting or looking at legislation that may very well discuss this," Bolton told reporters. "We acknowledge that the public and the media should have access to this information."
A fund to help Stewart's family has been established and those wishing to donate can do so at any Wells Fargo Bank, according to the Flagstaff Police Department. The account number is 7764473984.