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St. Louis Police Killing Of Cortez Bufford Probed In New Intercept Report

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Evie Hemphill
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St. Louis Public Radio
“It’s not going to stop until we the people put our foot down and say enough is enough,” says Antoine Bufford, pictured at home with his wife, Tammy Bufford. They are the parents of Cortez Bufford, who was killed by a St. Louis police officer in 2019.

On the evening of Dec. 12, 2019, near the corner of Bates and Virginia in St. Louis’ Carondelet neighborhood, 24-year-old Cortez Bufford died after being shot multiple times by St. Louis Police officer Lucas Roethlisberger.

The case has remained shrouded in darkness, as investigative journalists Alison Flowers and Sam Stecklow detail in their newly published Intercept deep dive, “The Fatal Tunnel.”

“Two people, a white police officer and a Black man, each carrying a strong internal narrative about the other, are both reportedly, and legally, carrying guns,” Flowers and Stecklow write of the fatal encounter. “They both carry something else, too: trauma. In the blackness of the gangway, their fears collide.”

Police had confronted Bufford by the BP gas station at 504 Bates St., where they believed him to be urinating, though as Flowers and Stecklow report, “no evidence of public urination was found.” When one officer began to approach Bufford by the gas station, “his eyes widened and fear spread across his face,” and Bufford took off on foot. The officer chased him and shot him in the narrow gangway between two nearby homes.

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Evie Hemphill / St. Louis Public Radio
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It was in this narrow passageway between two homes on Bates Street in south St. Louis that Cortez Bufford died after being struck by multiple bullets from St. Louis Police officer Lucas Roethlisberger’s gun.

A year and a half after Bufford’s death, his parents are still in search of answers to their many questions, including why the officer pulled his gun on someone who was running away from a pedestrian check.

The case is in the hands of Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner. Gardner has clashed with police over her desire for a separate unit to investigate police shootings. She has yet to make a determination in Bufford’s case.

“The [police] department has not released anything — has not given us any details of anything that’s going on with Cortez’s case,” his father, Antoine Bufford, told St. Louis on the Air. “We haven’t heard from [Gardner] at all. … I don’t know if she’s just too busy or she just hasn’t gotten time. … She said she’s for justice against police brutality. Show us. What are you doing?”

In a statement, Gardner’s office said this about the case: “The Cortez Bufford case is an open investigation which prohibits my office from discussing relevant details. However, my office remains committed to serving justice by providing detailed investigations in the record number of officer-involved shootings that take place in our city. To this end, we have requested additional budgetary resources from the Board of Aldermen and the Mayor to carry out these complex and difficult investigations required in such shootings as well as services for families involved in these tragic events.”

Bufford’s parents believe he was targeted and harassed by police after previously filing a lawsuit against the department. In 2014, his beating at the hands of officers was captured by a dashboard camera. The footage later went viral.

“From that point forward, the police harassed him,” said his mother, Tammy Bufford. “Every, any opportunity, any time they saw him, they stopped him, they harassed him.”

In 'The Fatal Tunnel,' Investigative Journalists Take A Closer Look At 2019 Police Killing
Listen as host Sarah Fenske talks with the Invisible Institute's Alison Flowers. We also hear from Antoine and Tammy Bufford, the parents of Cortez Bufford.

And that, Flowers said on St. Louis on the Air, explains why he ran from officers. “I think it’s important to note that Cortez was afraid of the police,” said Flowers, who is the director of investigations for the Chicago-based Invisible Institute. “He was a trauma survivor of police violence. So [fleeing] was very much a survival instinct and quite reasonable reaction to what happened. But when he took off running, the officer almost immediately draws his weapon, as a video does show.”

Flowers termed the interaction “an absurd law enforcement occasion.”

“This was not an encounter that needed to happen. Bufford appeared to be urinating — we don’t even know if he was,” the journalist said. “And that’s not a legitimate crime prevention strategy of the [SLMPD Mobile Reserve Unit] hot spot unit.”

She added: “I just want to emphasize something that hopefully everyone can come to acknowledge, because it’s the truth. And that is that sometimes police themselves are a known and proven threat to public safety, especially for Black and brown citizens like Cortez Bufford. And the world would have kept on turning, and Cortez Bufford would have kept on living, if police had left him alone when they thought he was urinating behind a building. … It’s just common sense to reduce these trivial interactions with law enforcement, because again and again they produce deadly outcomes.”

Read more about the Bufford case in The Intercept, or in this week’s Riverfront Times.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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