A man who saw a Tempe police officer shoot Austin Del Castillo says the version of events police provided to media outlets is "very different" from what he saw.
Del Castillo was shot outside the Chili's restaurant on the corner of Mill Avenue and University Drive in Tempe, and died last week as a result of the shooting.
The witness, Boyd Branch, tells New Times he was driving on University Drive when he stopped for the police cars heading to the restaurant and ended up watching the shooting take place.
One of the local TV stations that first ran the story cited a witness who claimed Del Castillo had charged at the officer with a box-cutter.
An e-mail sent out to media outlets by Tempe Police Sergeant Steve Carbajal, a police spokesman, made the same statement. The relevant part of the e-mail said:
"This morning at approximately 0818 hours, the Tempe Police Department received a call of a subject disturbing and threatening individuals with what was described as a knife or a box cutter. A description of the suspect was broadcasted and an officer responding to the call observed a subject matching the description on the southeast corner of Mill Ave and University Dr in front of the Chili's restaurant."
"When the officer made contact with the suspect, he still had the weapon in his hand. The officer gave verbal commands to the suspect to drop the weapon. The suspect refused to obey the officer's commands and charged at the officer with what was later found to be a box cutter. At this point, the officer removed his service weapon from his holster and fired at the suspect. The suspect was struck by the officer and was transported to a local hospital for medical treatment."
Branch, the witness we spoke to, made the following post on Facebook, which is time-stamped a few hours after the shooting:
Saw a man killed by a cop this morning. Many of my friends have a pretty intense distrust of law enforcement, and I am reticent to fuel that bias as a I have good friends and family who protect and serve this city with distinction that keep me from feeling comfortable with those that assume the worst about people with authority. That being said, the current news about the incident is significantly different from what I saw and since the news plays such a big role on public opinion I feel like I should say something. I don't really want to comment on some news post that is predominantly full of trolls that want to bark from a pulpit, so I am putting this out there publicly in what feels at least like a safer medium. The news is making a lot about a witness that said he saw the guy come charging with a knife at the officer. That is very different from what I saw. I saw a man stumbling forward towards officers and clearly not following instructions. I did not see the weapon in his hand, and in fact thought that he was shot because of a fear he was reaching to pull out a gun. The man was at least 10 or 15 feet away from the closest officer when shot, and unless a gun was the perceived threat I don't know why lethal force was used. I was one of the only witnesses that I know of that came back to give a report to the police besides employees inside the restaurant, and the witness accounts that were reported came before the police had even gotten around to interviewing us yet. I am alarmed by the press immediately running a story about a crazy man attacking and lunging at an officer based on some guy's witness account who didn't bother to give an official account to the police. The officer who took my formal statement in fact said that what I observed seemed to match the other formal accounts. I don't know the full context of the shooting or why the officer felt he needed to shoot. There could have been any number of accentuating circumstances, however from my perspective there were more options to contain the situation than lethal force. I am however waiting to hear from the police force itself what the official understanding of the event is before casting judgement or assuming what errors of judgement were made and how this should shape our appreciation of the policies in place for law enforcement. If you see or hear more official reports about this I would like to know. I guess that is all I have to say right now. If you feel like you want to respond to this post with any overgeneralized thoughts about the 'police state' I'd prefer if you posted elsewhere, however if any kind of informed discussion wants to take place be it critical or not I would welcome it.
Branch tells us he took notes of the incident and told us again today that Del Castillo was 10 to 15 feet away from the officer, and he says he never saw the weapon.
Del Castillo's friends have also been in protest of the officer's decision to shoot him. The officer has only been described as a 12-year veteran of the department.
Signs posted around the Chili's on that corner say, "Don't believe what the news says[,] the police definitely have a choice."
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His friends have planned a memorial for noon at Kiwanis Park in Tempe on October 5, and everyone's invited to attend.