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Activists want Raleigh police officer fired because of May 7 shooting that killed a man

At the lectern is Jasiel Rodriguez-Nunez, brother of Reuel Rodriguez-Nunez. Behind him are, from left, Kerwin Pittman, EmancipateNC director of Policy, Toshiba Rice, a mental health provider, and Dawn Blagrove, EmancipateNC executive director.
Jason deBruyn
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WUNC
At the lectern is Jasiel Rodriguez-Nunez, brother of Reuel Rodriguez-Nunez. Behind him are, from left, Kerwin Pittman, EmancipateNC director of Policy, Toshiba Rice, a mental health provider, and Dawn Blagrove, EmancipateNC executive director.

Activists called for the firing of Raleigh Police Department Master Officer P.W. Coates, an officer involved in the May 7 shooting of Reuel Rodriguez Nunez, who was killed in the parking lot of the RPD Southeast District Station.

"Raleigh Police Department does not seek to preserve life. But more so has a lust for blood," said Kerwin Pittman, the director of policy for EmancipateNC, a group that advocates for racial and social justice.

In the early afternoon of May 7, Rodriguez-Nunez threw cups of gasoline he lit on fire on RPD vehicles, setting them ablaze. He also threw fecal matter and urine toward the entrance of the police station. The first officers to approach Rodriguez-Nunez ordered him to stop, and backed their vehicles away after he threw cups of gasoline in their direction.

Minutes later, Coates approached Rodriguez-Nunez and apparently provoked him, repeatedly stating "go ahead (expletive), do it, do it." Coates also asked other officers to "give me the go ahead," according to a police report, as well as body camera footage.

Rodriguez-Nunez lit a cup of gasoline on fire and started to throw it in Coates' direction. At that point, all four responding officers fired their weapons, firing a total of 30 shots at Rodriguez-Nunez. The burning gasoline did not hit Coates.

Pittman and other activists said it should have been clear that Rodriguez-Nunez was having a "mental health crisis," made clear in part because he was throwing feces and urine. Coates should have de-escalated the situation, said Pittman.

"The scene was already secured and individuals were de-escalating the situation," said Pittman. "But yet he chose to escalate the situation, and essentially provoke and bully someone having a mental health crisis."

Pittman made the analogy that what played out would be like someone approaching a man on the edge of a bridge, and encouraging him to jump to his death.

Coates has been on administrative leave since the shooting. This is the eighth time since 2019 that Raleigh police officers have shot and killed someone.

Over the past few years, RPD has tried to increase training for officers when they encounter a person experiencing a mental health crisis. All recruits in the Raleigh Police Academy receive Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) and, as of February, 420 Raleigh officers were CIT-certified. In addition, RPD established the Addressing Crisis through Outreach, Referrals, Networking, and Service (ACORNS) Unit, which helps in calls involving those in need of mental-health intervention.

EmancipateNC executive director Dawn Blagrove has praised the ideas behind those programs, but wanted to see them in action.

"The ACORN Unit was created, but it certainly wasn't used to spare the life of Mr. Rodriguez-Nunez," she said. "It certainly wasn't used to help a man who was desperately begging for help."

Blagrove added that officers should be held accountable by Police Chief Estella Patterson when they do not follow CIT training.

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