A Raleigh police officer's shooting of a man near a strip mall off New Bern Avenue earlier this week sparked angry protests and rampant rumors in a city that has grappled with community-law enforcement tensions.
Around 6:40 p.m. on Tuesday, a person called 911 about a group of men gathered outside Soprano's Grill, an Italian restaurant. The caller said that one of the men appeared to be Latino, with tattooed arms, and was flashing a gun strapped to his waist. That man turned out to be 26-year-old Javier Torres.
"He's been walking between Sheetz and Soprano's Grill back and forth for about 15 minutes," the caller told the 911 dispatcher. "So I'm pretty sure they're looking for somebody."
Police dash cam video shows Torres, dressed in a white t-shirt and jeans walking away from officers, holding what looks like a pizza box.
Eventually, Torres broke into a run. Body cam footage from three officers shows that two officers chased Torres from behind; another came from the other direction and ended up right in front of Torres as he came running around a hedge near a trailer park, holding what appears to be a gun. Torres was shot once in the abdomen. He survived and was taken to a hospital.
Then a torrent of social media posts whipped up public outcry of a black, unarmed teen being shot in the back over a stolen pizza. Demonstrators gathered outside the Raleigh police chief's home as well as the governor's mansion, where they tore down and burned an American flag.
"I wish people would know the facts before they say anything or jump to conclusions," said Monzer Ayesh, who owns Big Cheese Pizza, in the same strip mall where Torres was first spotted. Because the story involved an allegedly stolen pizza, which was untrue as far as Ayesh knew and had nothing to do with his shop, Ayesh was targeted with dozens of threatening calls after the shooting.
"We love this community and we treat them fairly," Ayesh said. "I mean, we don't have any problem with anybody."
Another person who felt threatened was the person who called 911. At around 7:40 that evening, the 911 caller called dispatch again and asked for police to return to the strip mall after he was confronted by someone claiming to be Torres's brother.
"Um, he said 'You just got my brother locked up and my fam killed. I know your family, it's done, it's a wrap, you're done,'" the 911 caller told the dispatcher.
In January, a Raleigh officer shot Keith Dutree Collins, 52, who turned out to be armed with a BB gun. Collins later died.
Last year, in the same strip mall where Torres was first spotted, an officer shot and killed Soheil Mojarrad, after Mojarrad failed to comply with an order to drop a knife. The officer's body-cam was not operating but the officer was cleared of wrongdoing.
An ex-Wake County Deputy and a former State Trooper were convicted for their roles in the beating of Kyron Hinton during a 2018 arrest, also in Raleigh.
And other North Carolina cities have had police-involved incidents in recent years that raised questions about race and excessive force: the brutal treatment of alleged jaywalker Johnnie Jermaine Rush, in Asheville, and Keith Lamont Scott, a black man shot and killed by a black police officer, in Charlotte, in 2016.
Luke Asefa, who works the register at a vape shop in the strip mall where Torres was first spotted by police, said Torres is a frequent customer. Asefa said the two would often talk about life and joke around.
In response to the shooting, Asefa also wrote a message on the sandwich board propped up outside the vape shop, quoting Malcolm X. It read: “I'm for truth, no matter who tells it. I'm for justice, no matter who it is for or against."
Asefa said he's glad it looks like Torres will be okay. Torres survived the shooting and remains in the hospital. Torres has been charged with resisting arrest and removing the serial number from a gun.