Police Chief Kerr Putney faced a combative audience at a community meeting with Latino residents Thursday night.
The event came a week after the department released body-cam footage that showed officers shooting a 29-year-old Hispanic man named Rueben Galindo on Sept. 6.
He had his arms raised above his head as the shots were fired, video shows. Police say he was holding a gun at the time. Galindo had previously told a 911 dispatcher that his gun wasn't loaded.
Inside the Camino Community Center, an activist and a boy of around 10 or 11 were passing out flyers as the audience entered the modest auditorium in the university area. The activist, Hector Vaca, was with the group Action NC.
“These signs say things like ‘Hold my killers responsible’, in Spanish. They say, ‘Stop killing our families.’ ‘Caution, police,’ Vaca reads.
Some of the posters had photos of Galindo, "so that people can see his face," Vaca said, "that this is a family man, and it’s offensive for the police to try to paint him as a criminal.”
Galindo’s girlfriend, Azusena Zamorano, was in the front row, directly facing the police chief. She sat with a large, framed portrait of Galindo balanced against her knees.
Chief Putney was joined onstage by a Spanish interpreter and Astrid Chirinos of the Latin American Economic Development Corporation. The meeting began with a discussion about training and CMPD outreach programs.
Chirinos said she and Putney didn’t want the event to turn into a public trial for the Galindo shooting, but after opening the floor to questions, it became clear that was what the audience wanted.
“There’s a little bit of frustration because I think most of the people here want to talk about Reuben Galindo, and this has become a conversation about the training of CMPD,” said Jose Hernandez-Paris with the Latin American Coalition.
He said he didn’t think hiring more Latino officers would change much, noting at least one Latino CMPD officer was responsible for a fatal shooting of another Latino this past year.
“So we spend too much time on that because I think it’s beyond that,” said Hernandez-Paris.
Another audience member, a reporter for Que Pasa Mi Gente, the local Spanish-language newspaper, asked Putney if there was anything he wanted to say to Zamorano.
As Putney took the microphone, Zamorano stood to face him.
“I’m going to say what I said to her before. I’m so sorry for your loss," Putney said, "There’s nothing I can do to change it, and I hate that."
He added that his heart goes out to the family, and that he realizes Galindo’s life can never be brought back.
A few speakers later, Zamorano beckoned for the microphone to give the chief her reply.
"I am here for justice," she said through an interpreter. She disputed CMPD's account that Galindo was holding a gun at the time of the shooting, asserting instead that he was holding a telephone he was using to talk with 911 dispatchers. Furthermore, she said, he made no sudden movements towards officers.
She asked the chief whether it was true that officers are trained only to shoot if the suspect is being threatening or aggressive.
“That’s correct. Si,” Putney said.
“Then I don’t understand why he was shot,” she replied in Spanish.
The meeting ended promptly at 8 p.m., despite several residents still raising their hands to ask a question. As the audience filed out, some expressed dismay.
“I think nothing got accomplished, honestly. It was very political,” said Jaime Bueno, who works for a local tech company. “I believe there has to be some charges against some officer. There has to be some type of justice.”
Another woman, Alba Valencia, expressed a similar sentiment. She said she was frustrated because she didn't feel that Putney adequately addressed what happened the night that Galindo was shot. She said she appreciated that the police chief took the time to come, but said he didn't answer the questions she needed answered.
Still, another man, Pedro Sanchez, was a little more optimistic.
“My impression of it all is of hope,” he said through an interpreter.
He saw the event as an opportunity to rebuild confidence between the police department and Latino residents.
Asked what the next step should be, he gestured to his two kids nearby, a son and daughter aged 13 and 10. He was interested to hear about an outreach program that builds relationships between Latino youth and CMPD officers, and, he said, it sounded like something he might enroll his kids in.