Isiah Murrietta-Golding, fleeing the police, tumbles over a metal fence, head over heels. The officers are blocked. The teenager runs, trying to hold up his pants.

He is unaware that a Fresno, California, police officer has contorted his body into a shooting stance from the other side, where the gate was wide enough for a handgun to push through.

Murrietta-Golding, 16, takes eight steps before the officer fires a bullet that enters the teenager's head, just above his brain stem.

He died three days later in a hospital.

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An investigation into the 2017 shooting in Fresno found that the officer who fired the shot, named in court documents as Sgt. Ray Villalvazo, was justified in doing so, and that he feared for his life because the unarmed teen had reached for his waistband.

But video of the incident released this week by a family attorney raises new questions about Villalvazo's decision to fire the fatal round and the Fresno Police Department's defense of the shooting, months after the department said it would alter its policy for immediate threats.

"A picture is worth a thousand words, and this video is worth a million words," Stuart Chandler, an attorney for the teenager's father, told The Washington Post on Thursday. "It's clear this shooting was not justified. He was running away, holding up his pants, posing no threat to anybody."

Newly released video shows the moment a California police officer shot and killed 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding after fleeing from a traffic stop on April 2017.
Newly released video shows the moment a California police officer shot and killed 16-year-old Isiah Murrietta-Golding after fleeing from a traffic stop on April 2017.

Police were looking for Murrietta-Golding's older brother in connection with a shooting that led to a fatal car crash the day before.

After staking out a home, police stopped a car in which Murrietta-Golding and two other teenagers had been riding, according to a civil suit against the city and police department filed by Chandler, who represents Anthony Golding. The suit, consolidated with a suit by the boy's mother, Christina Pauline Lopez, alleges unlawful deadly force, assault and battery and negligence.

Murrietta-Golding followed police commands, got out of the vehicle and backed up toward police before he ran, body camera footage shows.

Then-Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer said the officer feared "he was about to be shot" after Murrietta-Golding "reached into his waistband several times," The Fresno Bee reported, including when he glanced back at the officers.

In the footage, the teenager appears to pull up sagging pants after scaling the gate and nearly falling. Body camera footage of the traffic stop also appears to show his pants falling. The teenager then continues to run away from the officer as Villalvazo levels his weapon to fire.

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In a statement, Police Chief Andy Hall declined to address specifics about the video. But he bolstered the officer's defense by saying that Murrietta-Golding was "known to carry firearms" and that the danger to civilians had intensified because he jumped into a "child day-care centre."

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However, the incident took place on April 15, a Saturday. The day care was empty, Chandler said. And the investigation determined that the trajectory of the bullet led to the day-care window, Chandler said, which could have posed a danger if children had been present.

Michael Haddad, an attorney for Lopez, said officers did not pursue Murrietta-Golding or his brother at their home, because they did not have a search warrant.

As Murrietta-Golding fled, the officers "had no legal justification to point guns at Isiah, and no legal justification to seize Isiah at gunpoint," Haddad said in a court filing. "Isiah exercised his right to self-defense and to non-violently resist defendants' attempts to unlawfully seize him."

Villalvazo and the other officer who witnessed the shooting were not wearing body cameras, Chandler said.

Hall said Murrietta-Golding's brother later pleaded guilty to killing Eugenio Ybarra, 19, who died after he crashed into a tree while fleeing gunshots. The brother is not being identified, because he is a juvenile.

Months before the police shooting, in November 2016, the department agreed to change the language of its policy on use of deadly force after a police shooting that resulted in a US$2.2 million settlement.

Officers were authorised to shoot if they felt there was "immediate" threat, rather than an "imminent" threat, The Bee reported. Haddad, who was an attorney in that case, said he believed officers interpreted "imminent" threats as a danger posed in the near future.

Chandler was denied access to the surveillance video by police and city officials, he said, and only received it as part of the trial's discovery process. He said Murrietta-Golding's father was disturbed by the video and other details of the incident after his son became one of 986 people shot and killed by police in 2017.