Warning: Without commenting on the culpability of the police officer or whether the shooting was avoidable, this footage is extremely disturbing. Viewer discretion advised.
The city of Greensboro released graphic video of the shooting death of Greensboro resident Chieu Di Thi Vo by Greensboro police Officer today during a press briefing this afternoon led by Chief Wayne Scott. The briefing was also attended by Councilwoman Marikay Abuzuaiter, City Attorney Tom Carruthers and community activist Lewis Brandon. Scott said the video, along with recordings of a 911 call and police radio, will be posted on the department website for public review later today.
The critical parts of the shooting take place within a short, six-second span. During the first part, Officer Tim Bloch’s body camera is pointed up at the clouds and into the trees. As he walks around the corner of an apartment building, he can be heard speaking to a witness in a voice that can be described as vexed: “Where is she? Where is she? Is this her?”
About a second later, he yells, “Hey, put it down! Put it down!”
At this point, the camera falls back into a horizontal position and Chieu Di Thi Vo can be seen walking down a sidewalk, with her mother to her left. “I told you, put it down!” Bloch yells, firing the first of a series of four shots into Vo before completing the command.
He yells again: “Put it down!” and fires a fifth and final shot, as Vo staggers and crumples to the ground.
A woman’s agonized cry can be heard, and Bloch radios: “Shots fired.”
Before showing the video, Chief Scott played the 911 call that prompted Officer Bloch to respond to the Aberdeen Townhomes, where Vo was a resident.
“Can you please send someone over here to the area of 4027 Hewitt Street?” the caller requests. “There’s a little Filipino woman. She’s not right. She’s chasing her mother with a meat cleaver.”
Scott also played a recording of a radio dispatcher relaying the situation to Officer Bloch: “Female chasing another female around with a knife in a parking lot.”
Scott said the video image went towards the sky when Bloch stepped out of his car because he pushed his glasses up. The chief went on to say that when Bloch, who was accompanied by the 911 caller, encountered Vo, he initially retreated.
“As he was retreating his glasses fell back down,” Scott said. “We asked him in the investigation: ‘Did you pull them down?’ Quite honestly, his reply was, ‘I don’t remember.'”
Scott said that Bloch retreated about 12 feet and fired the final shot at Vo when she was four feet away from him, adding that Vo eventually collapsed at about the same place where Bloch was when he started retreating.
Scott said the Guilford County District Attorney and the State Bureau of Investigation declined to attend the press briefing.
“They stand by their findings that the officer was justified in the level of force that he used on that day,” the chief said.
The Vo family watched the footage last week, and requested that it be made available to the public. Greensboro City Council voted on Monday to authorize the release.
“Viewing Bloch’s body-worn camera video recording and listening to the 911 and dispatch audio recordings on May 3rd took an emotional tool on our family,” the family said in an official statement released on Sunday. “We were not prepared to watch the violence committed against our beloved Chieu Di, who would never hurt a fly, and did not have the capacity to hurt anyone — especially former officer Bloch. No one should ever have to watch his or her child or sibling being gunned down by a city police officer — and they definitely should not wait over two years to watch the video to learn the truth of what happened in the final moments of their loved one’s life. We don’t want this to ever happen to any other families in the future.”
It is apparent from the video that Bloch was stepping back as he fired on Vo, but the camera only shows the woman for a brief moment before the shots start, so it’s difficult to assess how quickly she was advancing towards the officer.
The family said in the statement that they have forgiven Bloch, but they dispute the position of the police department and the findings of the Guilford County District Attorney that the officer used justifiable force.
“After viewing the video with our own eyes, we strongly believe that what we saw and heard simply do not match with the GPD’s initial assessment of what happened — we did not see Chieu Di lunging at Officer Bloch, we did not hear Chieu Di yell anything in Vietnamese at former officer Bloch, and Chieu Di was not physically threatening her mother.”
During today’s press briefing, police Capt. Mike Richey said Vo’s mother characterized the circumstances of the shooting differently at the time of the incident.
Richey said Vo’s mother was transported to the Maple Street police station by an officer who speaks Vietnamese as his first language. Richey said the officer related that Vo’s mother told him in the car that Vo stated to her during the encounter with Bloch just before the shooting: “I’m going to cut him.”
The conversation was not recorded, Richey said, because the department did not require video recordings of the transport of prisoners at the time, and more to the point, Vo’s mother was not a prisoner.
Richey added that during the interview at Maple Street, which was recorded, Vo’s mother said several times something to the effect of, “Thank you, I would have been dead without you.”
Cat Le, executive director of the Charlotte-based Southeast Asian Coalition, said the Vo family would decline to comment today.
“We at SEAC feel there are some parts of the story that need further inquiry,” she said. “What the officer said and the translation were not released today. Those are parts that we’re going to look into.”
The family also contends that Vo’s death was unnecessary.
“From the 5-6 times that we watched the video last Tuesday, it appeared that Bloch stood approximately 10-15 feet away from Chieu Di and only waited a couple seconds before he started opening fire on her,” they wrote. “Within that distance, Bloch did not have to respond to Chieu Di with lethal force as she was not an imminent threat to his life.”
Chief Scott said the fact that the encounter unfolded in only six seconds meant that Bloch did not have the option of using nonlethal force.
“The events that day happened in a particular sequence, and unfortunately Ms. Vo controlled the majority of those sequences, from the beginning of the 911 call to the end of this tragic event,” he said. “We at the Greensboro Police Department stand behind the SBI and what the initial investigation revealed. We do believe this was a justified and reasonable force, albeit as a tragedy. And we wish we could do everything we could do in the world to reverse it and never have to go through this again.”
Arguing that Bloch could have used “alternative ways to deescalate the situation” considering “Chieu Di’s mental incapacity and limited English proficiency,” the family wrote, “In the video, it appeared that Chieu Di did not even register the fact that Bloch was yelling at her to drop the weapon.”
Chief Scott said he does not agree with that characterization.
“I believe it’s readily apparent that she’s looking directly at him and she’s heading directly at him,” he said. “She does not change her course until after the first shots are actually fired.”