HOUSTON (CN) - Houston officials on Wednesday released footage of an unarmed black man's encounter with the policeman who shot him dead, hours after his mother filed a wrongful death lawsuit, though the mayor called the timing coincidence.
Janet Baker sued Houston and its police Officer Juventino Castro for the death of her son Jordan Baker, on Wednesday morning in Federal Court.
Wednesday afternoon, Police Chief Charles McClelland released video footage of the Jan. 16, 2014 foot chase that ended with Castro fatally shooting Baker in the chest at a Houston strip mall.
Nothing revelatory is obvious in the grainy film apparently shot from a store in the mall. The 27-second clip barely shows one figure run out of the frame, followed by another just as obscure, and their clothing is unrecognizable.
Mayor Annise Parker told the Houston Chronicle the decision to release the video had nothing to do with the lawsuit, but was the result of discussions between her office, the city's attorneys and the police department, which had to wait until it finished its internal investigation of the shooting.
Baker says in her lawsuit that Castro was wearing his HPD uniform that day and moonlighting at the mall, through the police department's "Extra Employment System."
Baker also named the strip mall's manager, RPI Management Company, as a defendant.
Jordan Baker, a 26-year-old college student and father of a young son, rode his bike to the strip mall from his nearby house that evening, wearing flip-flops, pajama pants and a hooded sweatshirt. Castro thought he looked suspicious, Baker's mother says.
"Defendant Castro's basis for claiming Jordan Baker looked 'suspicious' was based on Jordan's race and the fact that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt," the complaint states.
Castro tried to detain Baker, who balked, leading to a scuffle that left her son with cuts and scrapes all over his body, his mother says.
Baker's sweatshirt came off in the scrum and he ran away shirtless from Castro, his mother says, citing the video footage. She says in the complaint that Castro chased her son behind the strip mall, shot him in the chest from more than 10 feet away, then handcuffed him "as he lay dying, writhing in pain."
Castro told the grand jury that declined to indict him in December 2014 that he fired when he saw Baker reaching into his waistband - a common defense in police shootings.
(On Monday this week, two Cleveland, Ohio police officers involved in the fatal shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice filed statements with the Cuyahoga County Sheriff's Office that the boy was pulling what turned out to be a pellet gun when he was shot a year ago.)
Janet Baker announced the lawsuit with her attorney at a news conference outside the federal courthouse Wednesday afternoon, flanked by demonstrators holding a large banner, "In Memory of Mike Brown."
Brown became the face of the Black Lives Matter movement after a Ferguson, Mo. policeman shot and killed him in August 2014, setting off weeks of violent protests in Ferguson.
Though Baker died 8 months before Brown, the Ferguson protests brought renewed attention to Baker's case.
Since Brown's death the nation has reeled from one fatal police encounter with a black man to another: From 12-year-old Tamir Rice to 25-year-old Freddie Gray in Baltimore, to 17-year-old Laquan McDonald in Chicago.
Gray suffered a fatal spinal cord injury in April while in police custody.
Baker's lawsuit comes as protests rage in Chicago over the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald by Officer Jason Van Dyke, whom prosecutors charged with murder. McDonald was unarmed when Van Dyke shot him 16 times in October 2014. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel fired Police Supt. Garry McCarthy this week, in fallout from the McDonald shooting. Chicago police refused to release graphic video of the killing for a year, and were recorded erasing videos of it from store security cameras.
Baker seeks punitive damages for wrongful death, assault and battery, failure to provide medical care and excessive force. She also sued for municipal liability, claiming Houston lets its police department maintain a "de facto policy" of shooting unarmed people.
She is represented by David Owens with Loevy Loevy in Chicago.