TACOMA, Wash. - The family of a 24-year-old man killed by a Tacoma police officer early Sunday told KIRO 7 in an interview that their loved one was shot in the back as he ran away from police.
The Pierce County Sheriff's Department, which is now handling the investigation into the officer-involved shooting, has not yet said why the officer shot the man following a traffic stop around 2:40 a.m. near 34th Street and Portland Avenue.
Family members identified the man killed by the officer as Bennie Branch and told KIRO 7 they want answers from police about why deadly force was used.
"It's unreal for us," said Jackie Johnson, Bennie's uncle. "Somebody that we all love very much – he's gone."
Johnson said Branch was with his mother, who witnessed her son being shot and killed by the officer.
"He was down there checking on his mom because she is homeless and she was down there on the side of the road," said Johnson.
"He did try to run from them and they pinned him in the car, tazed him, pulled him out the car, tazed him, they beat him," said Johnson. "Finally, they let him up and he ran away and they shot him in the back, right in front of his mom."
One neighbor told KIRO 7 he heard five to six gunshots and later saw Branch's body in the road in front of the nearby church. Another neighbor told KIRO 7 she heard officers shouting commands.
Pierce County deputies said Sunday that Branch had "multiple warrants including a felony DOC warrant," but have not yet said for what.
Investigators said they also recovered a handgun belonging to Branch. His family said Sunday it was an airsoft pistol and that Branch, according to his mom, did not point the weapon at officers.
KIRO 7 reached out to the Pierce County Sheriff's Department Sunday with the family's account of what happened but a spokesperson did not immediately respond to our request for additional information.
"He was not a perfect kid, but he was a loving kid," said Johnson. "[Police] messed up and they need to admit that they messed up."
The 33-year-old officer who killed Branch has been with the Tacoma Police Department for four years and was not hurt, according to deputies.
The officer, whose name has not been released, was placed on paid administrative leave, which is standard following officer-involved shootings.
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