A comprehensive resource for safe and responsible laser use

US: NYPD video shows man killed for aiming fake gun laser pointer at officers

On September 6 2016, New York City Police Department officers fatally shot a man who they say aimed an imitation gun with a laser pointer at them. Killed was 31-year-old college student Miguel Richards.

Police released four videos from officers’ body-worn cameras, showing how the incident progressed. A detailed look at the laser light seen in videos is below. First though, a summary of the incident.

The fatal incident


Police had been called by Richards’ landlord because Richards had not been seen for a few days. Confronted by two police officers in his Bronx apartment bedroom, Richards stood motionless and silent throughout most of the incident. He had a knife in one hand and the toy gun behind his back.

Miguel Richards toy gun laser pointer NYPD video frame 926

Body-worn video shows the scene.

Police asked him dozens of times to drop the knife and put his hands up. After about 10 minutes, they noticed the gun.

An officer told Richards “"Drop that gun, dude. Drop that gun. I don't want to shoot you if you've got a fake gun in your hand. You hear me? But I will shoot you if that's a real gun."

Two additional officers then arrived; one pulled out a stun gun. Richards appeared to raise his arm and aim the laser pointer towards the officers. The officer with the stun gun fired. After a few seconds, and a possible second laser “shot” from Richards, a second officer fired nine bullets, a third officer fired seven bullets, and the fourth officer did not fire.

Richards died at the scene.

Miguel Richards toy gun laser pointer floor

The imitation pistol with laser pointer lies at the scene; NYPD photo.

Laser light seen in the videos


Police said Richards pointed the toy gun, with the laser pointer activated, at the officers. All four officers said they saw a red laser dot.

To check this, LaserPointerSafety.com reviewed the videos, looking for indications of laser usage. You may want to follow along by looking at a short video clip with timestamps, that shows all four cameras’ views of events just before, during and after the fatal shots.

NYPD Vievue body cam camera
An officer with a body-worn camera


FIRST LASER VISIBLE: STUN GUN

At 18:00:58, the stun gun’s red sighting laser was in use. The first frame shows the stun gun (center) aimed down towards the floor, with a red trace on the floor. In the second and third frames, the red trace moves towards the door as the officer is simultaneously raising the stun gun towards Richards.

Pic 2017-09-15 at 2.37.13 PM
Pic 2017-09-15 at 2.37.30 PM
Pic 2017-09-15 at 2.38.20 PM


SECOND LASER VISIBLE: RICHARDS

Here is the overall view of the scene at 18:01:01 from Officer #3, who has the stun gun, just before shots are fired.

Officer 3 slo-mo overall 926w


The next four photos show a close-up of the lower left corner of the scene.

Officer 3 slo-mo closeup A 500w
This is an enlargement of the full scene above. The stun gun is being lowered. Richards’ right arm (left side of photo) is down.

Officer 3 slo-mo closeup B 500w
Richards’ right arm comes up across his body, just above the bottom of the video frame.

Officer 3 slo-mo closeup C 500w
A red glow is seen from the end of his arm, undoubtedly his activation of the laser pointer on the imitation gun (since the stun gun is still lowered out of frame).

Officer 3 slo-mo closeup D 500w
Officer #3 quickly raises the stun gun.

Pic 2017-09-15 at 5.27.52 PM
At about the same time, the officer on the right suddenly leans back as if he is startled or is avoiding something (e.g., Richards’ raised arm and laser pointer).


THIRD LASER VISIBLE: PROBABLY STUN GUN

At 18:01:05 a red dot can be seen from Officer #2’s camera:

Pic 2017-09-15 at 2.20.49 PM
Pic 2017-09-15 at 2.19.55 PM

From the brightness and from the location of the light in the opposite corner of the room, the laser dot would appear more likely to be from the stun gun pointed towards Richards, than from a laser pointed by Richards back towards the officers.

That’s because the laser aimed by Richards, back towards the officers, might be on a surface outside of the field of view of the camera. Only if it happened to hit the officer’s outstretched arm, or the camera lens, would we easily view a bright dot from Richards’ laser.

Another clue is that the laser dot moves from Richards’ location down to the floor, as if Officer #3 is lowering his stun gun.

FOURTH LASER POSSIBLE: RICHARDS?

At 18:01:06, a red line can be very briefly seen on what appears to be the left officer’s (Officer #1’s) right upper forearm. This is the same time that the officer on the right quickly leans backwards, as if avoiding something.

Assuming this is a laser, it would most likely be from Richards, deep inside the room, rather than from Officer #2 with the stun gun who just a second earlier had entered the room with his back to the two officers shown here.

From the sounds on the video, one shot — the stun gun? — was fired before the frame below, and then numerous shots were fired afterwards. Hypothetically, Richards could have been aiming towards the officers at the door, hitting the one on the left, and causing the officers to return fire.

Pic 2017-09-15 at 4.57.44 PM

About imitation guns in New York City


The realistic appearance of Richards’ toy gun violates federal, New York state and New York city law. According to Lawyers.com, “…federal law requires fake guns to be transparent, brightly colored, or have a bright orange tip at the end of the barrel. New York state law goes further to ban toy guns that are black, blue, silver, or aluminum; and toy firearms must have bright orange stripes that run up both sides of the barrel…. Toy guns can't be sold in New York City unless they are colored bright green, blue, red or another neon color.”

Also under NYC Administrative Code §10-131(g), toy guns in New York City cannot have an attached laser pointer.

A 2003 New York City government report stated that between 1998 and 2003, there were 12 cases where New York City police fired on persons later found to be a toy gun and “many of these incidents resulted in death.”

LaserPointerSafety.com has searched many thousands of photos at eBay, Amazon, Google Images and Alibaba, but cannot find a toy gun that looks like this “Shock & Pistols” Luger-style pistol.

Original September 6 2017 story from the New York Daily News. September 14 stories about release of the body-worn camera footage from WNYC News and Newsday. The NYPD released an edited video showing footage from the officers’ body cams; it is available on YouTube. Additional videos from the NYPD body cams are here. A compilation all four body cams simultaneously synchronized, during the last few seconds of the incident, is here.