Featured photo: The moment at which Officer Sletten shoots his second shot at the car that Nasanto Crenshaw was driving. (screenshot)
Why did the officer shoot three times? Why didn’t he immediately render aid? Why was Nasanto Crenshaw pulled over in the first place?
Trigger warning: This article includes detailed descriptions of a police killing as well as screenshots and video footage.
The Greensboro Police Department released 104 videos on Tuesday morning that document an Aug. 21, 2022 incident in which 17-year-old Nasanto Antonio Crenshaw was shot and killed by GPD Officer ML Sletten during a traffic stop for a violation that normally carries a $10 fine. The hours of footage were compiled into a community briefing video in which GPD Public Information Officer Josie Cambareri adds “factual context” including commentary that aims to explain why Sletten shot at Crenshaw three times, ultimately killing him. For the purposes of this article, TCB will be referring to time stamps in the compilation video which shows both body-worn camera footage and dash cam footage from Sletten’s patrol car. TCB watched the video at quarter and half speed to ensure accuracy.
Upon viewing the footage, questions remain as to whether or not Sletten violated GPD’s use-of-force policy and why Sletten pulled Crenshaw over in the first place.
What the footage shows
Footage released by the GPD on Tuesday includes 104 videos (63 body-worn camera and 41 vehicle-mounted) that total several hours and is viewable on the police department’s YouTube channel. As reported by TCB in the past, Crenshaw was driving a stolen vehicle on Aug. 21, 2022 around 9 p.m. when Sletten attempted to pull him over, steering him into the Super G Mart parking lot off of West Market Street. Sletten told investigators that he pulled Crenshaw over because he was driving with his high beam lights on.
After initially driving away, Crenshaw stops at a dead end in the parking lot around the 6:48 time mark in the compilation footage. Then, in what seems to be an effort to get out of the dead end, Crenshaw backs away from the shopping center (6:52), hitting the left front corner of Sletten’s patrol car with his front left corner. At the same time, Sletten exits his vehicle and moves from behind the side of his patrol car to intercept Crenshaw as he attempts to drive away (6:55). This is also the first time viewers see Sletten take out his gun and point it towards the car Crenshaw is driving. At this point, Sletten is standing behind the back of his patrol car near the left side bumper.
Here’s where the narratives between the police department and attorneys for Crenshaw’s family diverge.
At 6:55 in the video, Sletten orders Crenshaw to “Get on the ground! Do it now!” At this point, Crenshaw has backed up to the other side of the parking lot. Then, at 6:57, Sletten moves from behind his patrol car to approach the front of Crenshaw’s car. At 6:58, Crenshaw begins driving the car again, turning out of the parking spot that he is in. Shortly afterwards, Sletten gives another command: “Stop!” At this point, the car is at an angle to Sletten and is not pointing directly at the officer. That’s when Sletten discharges the first shot through the front windshield. Then, as the car continues to turn away from Sletten so that the officer is now pointing his gun perpendicular to the Nissan and is mostly aiming at the passenger side window, Sletten fires off his second shot. By the time Sletten shoots the third shot, the car has mostly passed where Sletten is standing. According to a report released by Guilford County District Attorney Avery Crump, there were “two bullet holes in the front windshield and one bullet hole noted on the front passenger window.” Then the car crashes into a median, coming to a full stop.
According to the GPD, a 9mm pistol, ski masks, a backpack and cell phone were recovered by the NC State Bureau of Investigation from the car Crenshaw was driving. GPD did not post footage of the recovery of these items.
“The SBI recovered those items and provided that in the report they gave to the DA,” said GPD public information officer Cambareri in an email. “The videos we released are only GPD ‘owned’ BWC/VMC — no recordings of the SBI.”
According to a civil suit that was filed by the family in March, Crenshaw sustained gunshot wounds to his right forearm, right-side ribcage and to the right side of his neck. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
According to the GPD’s interpretation of the footage, Sletten shoots at the car after walking around the rear of his patrol vehicle because “at that moment, the driver places the Nissan in drive and begins to accelerate forward, toward where Corporal Sletten is standing.”
However, attorneys for the Crenshaw family put out a statement on Tuesday reiterating their view of the events.
“The wheels of the car were clearly turned away from Sletten and he simply wasn’t in the car’s path when he fired the first shot,” the statement reads. “The front of the car had passed when he fired his second and the car had passed entirely when he fired the third shot killing Nasanto and barely missing a 14-year-old sitting in the passenger seat.”
On March 30, DA Crump declined to seek charges against Officer Sletten, saying that he was justified in his use of deadly force. Prior to Crump’s decision, Nasanto Crenshaw’s family filed a wrongful death civil suit against the GPD and the city of Greensboro.
Did the officer violate GPD policy?
As reported by TCB in the past, the main difference in the two narratives hinges on whether or not Crenshaw turned away from or towards Sletten in his attempt to flee. With the incident taking place at night, it is difficult to see the angle of the tires when Sletten fires his first shot in the footage but the subsequent shots take place after the car has already turned away from Sletten.
During an investigation interview, Sletten said that he fired his weapon because “it appeared the driver was driving straight at him” and that “he felt he had no other choice because he had nowhere to go. Cpl. Sletten stated that this all occurred in a matter of seconds.”
According to the GPD’s Use of Force Policy 1.6.4, officers are prohibited from firing their weapons from or at moving cars “except to counter an imminent threat of death or serious physical injury to the officer or another person and no other means are reasonably available at that time…”
While Sletten stated in his investigative interview that he “had no other choice,” GPD policy clearly states that officers can only shoot at moving vehicles in four specific situations.
- If the driver is using or threatening to use lethal force by means other than the vehicle
- If the vehicle is being operated in a manner deliberately intended to strike a person
- If all other reasonable means of defense of escape, including taking cover or moving out of the path of the vehicle have been exhausted, are not practical, or are not present
- Use of deadly force must cease after the vehicle no longer presents an immediate threat
Based on the criteria clearly outlined in the police department’s policy, it’s notable that Sletten appears to have violated at least three of the situations. Crenshaw was not using “lethal force by means other than the vehicle,” Sletten did not attempt to take cover or move out of the way of the Nissan, and Sletten continued to fire the second and third shots after the car had turned away from him. The sticking point, once again, is bullet point No. 2, in which the police department, Sletten and DA Crump have alleged that Crenshaw was driving towards Sletten when he fired the first shot.
But even then, the question remains as to whether or not Crenshaw would have survived if only shot once, rather than a total of three times, given that the last two shots appear to have violated the policy.
Multiple minutes pass before Crenshaw receives aid
Additionally, Sletten did not attempt to render aid to Crenshaw for several minutes even after the car had come to a stop and he had ordered the last passenger to lay on the ground.
As viewed in the compilation footage, Sletten approaches the car around the 8:28 mark and commands the passenger to “get on the ground.” It isn’t until more than two minutes later at the 10:55 mark that Sletten finally handcuffs the passenger. Then, another 30 seconds pass before Sletten finally makes it to the driver’s side door (11:22) to reach Crenshaw. The door is locked; Sletten tries to break the window. Finally, at around the 12-minute mark, other officers arrive on the scene and help pull Crenshaw’s body out of the car. At 12:25, officers and emergency personnel start chest compression on Crenshaw. By that time, about 4 minutes have passed since Sletten first approached the car.
According to a 2017 NIH study, the leading cause of death in gunshot wounds is bleeding, and the first 10 minutes after injury are often referred to as the “platinum” 10 minutes. That’s because “typical complications such as airway obstruction, tension pneumothorax, and hemorrhage must be treated within the first 10 minutes,” according to the study. According to the American Red Cross, a “person can die from severe blood loss in less than 5 minutes.”
Why was Crenshaw pulled over in the first place?
According to the Greensboro Police Department, Sletten pulled Crenshaw over because he “observed a vehicle behind him driving with the high beams on.” Crenshaw then passed Sletten’s patrol car and pulled into the Dollar General parking lot. At this point, Sletten activates his blue lights and initiates a traffic stop of the white 2018 Nissan Altima with a Florida license plate. But why?
At this point, Sletten does not know that the car is stolen. Based on information released by the police department, Crenshaw was neither speeding nor driving recklessly when Sletten decided to pull him over. He was driving behind Sletten with his high beams on in the rain. After Sletten attempts to pull Crenshaw over, Crenshaw drives into the Super G Mart parking lot and then drives away when Sletten gets out of his car. It is then that Sletten learns that the car is stolen via radio dispatch (4:55).
According to NC Gen. Statute 20-181, “any person operating a motor vehicle on the highways of this state, who shall fail to shift, depress, deflect, tilt or dim the beams of the headlamps thereon whenever another vehicle is met on such highways or when following another vehicle at a distance of less than 200 feet, except when engaged in the act of overtaking and passing may, upon a determination of responsibility for the offense, be required to pay a penalty of not more than ten dollars.”
Crenshaw, who did not turn off his high beam lights when driving behind Sletten, passed Sletten shortly afterwards.
Police killings during traffic stops have become a flashpoint in the US, with more than 400 drivers or passengers being killed in the last five years, according to the New York Times. The Guardian puts the death count at close to 600.
While officers usually claim that their lives are in danger after a shooting, the Times’ investigation found dozens of encounters that appeared noted “officer-created jeopardy,” in which police “regularly — and unnecessarily — placed themselves in danger by standing in front of fleeing vehicles or reaching inside car windows, then fired their weapons in what they later said was self-defense.”
According to the Guardian, about 10 percent of the roughly 1,100 people killed by police each year involve traffic violations. And Black drivers like Crenshaw make up a disproportionate percentage of the victims.
According to data by Mapping Police Violence, a non-profit research group, Black drivers made up 28 percent of the victims, despite making up only 13 percent of the population. Additional research, including a 2015 New York Times investigation focused on Greensboro, has consistently found that Black and Brown drivers are more likely to be stopped, searched and subjected to force by police. In fact, the city of Greensboro published its own study in 2016 that found that Black drivers made up 55 percent of stops during the years 2008-13 while white drivers made up 45 percent. The research also found that Black drivers were 102 percent more likely to be searched despite the fact that white drivers were 9 percent more likely to have contraband in their car.
On Tuesday, the attorneys for the Crenshaw family criticized DA Crump’s decision not to pursue charges against Sletten.
“Prosecutors charge killers every day across America with less evidence than this video but apparently District Attorney Crump thinks a badge is a license to kill,” the statement reads.
According to the police department, Sletten remains on administrative duty until the department’s internal investigation is complete. Public information officer Josie Cambareri noted in the compilation video that the investigation will take place over the course of the next few months.
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