New Jersey Family Seeks Justice For Thelonious “RaRa” McKnight, Black Man Killed By Police

A family in New Jersey is demanding justice for Thelonious “RaRa” McKnight, a 25-year-old Black man who was fatally shot by police on Dec. 29. Police said they were investigating an earlier incident when they encountered McKnight near the intersection of a street in Paterson, New Jersey, around 9 p.m., NJ.Com reports

Sources who spoke with NorthJersey.Com said police made a gun arrest earlier in the day in the same area where McKnight was shot. One of the suspects escaped during the incident earlier in the day.

Police returned to the area later that night and found McKnight, who they believed to be the suspect who escaped. Sources said the young man ran down an alley between two houses while trying to flee, but he was unable to escape through a back gate. 

While Mayor Andre Sayegh said the 25-year-old drew a handgun and fired toward officers before he was fatally shot, witnesses are giving a different account. Duke Snider, one of the witnesses, said he saw the shooting while he was with three of his friends. According to Snider, McKnight was facing police with his hands up when they shot him in the backyard. 

“A cop car drove by and then came back and stopped,” Snider said, according to NorthJersey.Com. “One of the cops came up and went straight for Thelonius. Then two other cops joined him. They marched Thelonius toward the backyard and made him take his hands out of his pockets.”

The attorney general's office released a statement, saying a 9-millimeter handgun was found near McKnight's body. Jose Matos, another witness, said police initially approached him and three other people. Matos, who was asked if McKnight had a gun at the time of the incident, said, "I don't know." 

Security footage from the area showed a person, who is believed to be McKnight, standing on the sidewalk with two other men when police arrived in a black vehicle and pulled up next to the group with their lights flashing. Three officers then came out of the car and approached the group. Although there is no sound, the footage shows police drawing their guns and chasing the men after a scuffle broke out, NJ reports. 

There is also a second video, recorded by a witness, which shows several people saying “don’t shoot” and “stop” while police chased McKnight in the alley. Gunshots were heard a short time later.  

“What did ya’ll do to my brother?” a person can be heard saying in the clip.

Family and friends have launched a petition demanding the attorney general’s office to release any body camera or video footage, police reports and use of force reports, as well as the names of the officers involved. 

The state attorney general’s office hasn't confirmed whether the officers were wearing body cameras. Janet Rodriguez, who spoke at a vigil for her brother, said she got a call around 9 p.m. on Dec. 29 and learned that McKnight has been shot. Rodriguez saw about 30 officers when she arrived at the scene. She said officers told her and her sister, Sinthya Rodriguez,  to stay behind yellow crime tape.

The sisters said they were angry when they saw one officer, who they said was “standing in the street and talking on his cellphone while laughing and dancing," according to NorthJersey.Com.

Maggie Colon, McKnight's mother, arrived about an hour later after hearing about her son.

“When she came," Rodriguez said, "she immediately embraced me and my sister and then demanded to see Thelonius and wanted to know what happened.”

The family said they waited in the cold for almost three hours before they were asked to go to the backyard for an interview with police.  

"My brother died alone,” Rodriguez said. “They left him lying on the ground for hours.”

According to the family, there wasn't a ambulance that arrived on the scene after the shooting happened. Rodriguez said the only medical attention her brother received was “by a policeman carrying a bag.”

“When the police left, I picked up the bloody sheet they left behind that they covered my brother with,” Rodriguez said. “The police also left behind a respirator machine which is used for CPR. The plastic bag was still neatly folded and the hose was perfectly coiled up, which proves that they never even tried to use it.”

The attorney general's office said in a statement that "police and emergency medical personnel rendered first aid," according to NorthJersey.Com. A doctor from St. Joseph’s University Medical Center pronounced McKnight dead at 9:11 p.m. at the scene.