COLUMBUS, Ohio — Officer Peter Casuccio drew his weapon as he approached two young boys suspected of having a gun. He ordered them to stop, turn around and show him their hands.
A scared 11-year-old pulled out what appeared to be a firearm from his waist and tossed it. The gun broke into pieces on a sidewalk on the north side of Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday. It was then Casuccio said he realized the weapon was a BB gun.
In that split second, the officer showed restraint in the encounter, which was captured on a body camera video released Monday by Columbus police. He didn’t fire his weapon. Instead, Casuccio, who is a father, said he went into “dad mode” and used the moment to teach the 11-year-old, who is African-American, a lesson.
The peaceful encounter took place more than 100 miles south of Cleveland, where former Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann in 2014 shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was African-American, after a witness called 911 to report that someone was brandishing a gun in a park.
‘Do you think I want to shoot an 11-year-old?’
In an interview with CNN, Casuccio, 37, said he had just passed the pair when the 911 call came reporting several African-American boys waving a gun. He recalled seeing two boys who fit the description in the call. He approached them with his gun drawn, believing they were armed based on the call.
Casuccio said he slowly got out of his car “because I’m assessing whether I have to shoot or not.” The 11-year-old was walking with a 13 year-old boy.
He said the 11-year-old “kind of panicked” when he pulled the BB gun from his waist.
“I could tell they were both scared, so I thought it was a teachable moment,” said Casuccio, who told the boys to sit on a railing as he talked.
“This is getting kids killed all over the country,” Casuccio told them, according to the footage from Columbus police.
In the exchange, the 11-year-old said he didn’t flash the gun but was holding it, running with it, he said, slightly lifting his hands from his side.
“You can’t do that, dude, in today’s world. Listen, that thing looks real,” Casuccio said to the boy, who apologized.
“You should be sorry, and you should be scared,” the officer told the boy, who said he didn’t want the officer to shoot him.
“Do you think I want to shoot an 11-year-old? Do you think I want to shoot a 13-year-old?” the officer told the pair.
The 13-year-old’s mother arrived at the scene and took him home, but the 11-year-old began to walk home. The officer told him he would give him a ride.
“Not today, little man,” he recalled telling the youngster. “You’ve got to go answer for your sins to momma.”
The officer said he has a 2-year-old son, and his wife is due to deliver another child in February.
‘I could have killed you’
At the boy’s home, Casuccio told the boy’s mother about their encounter.
“He could’ve shot you for that. You know that,” the boy’s mother said, according to the video.
Casuccio said: “Regardless of what people say about the dudes wearing this uniform, OK, we care.”
He told them about his experience in the military, which included nearly a decade in active and reserve duty in the US Coast Guard, and as an officer.
“I’ve had to do things that I hope that your generation never has to do. Having that said, the last thing I ever want to do is shoot an 11-year-old man because your life hasn’t even gotten started yet, and it could’ve ended, because I wouldn’t have missed,” Casuccio said.
“Right,” the 11-year-old said.
“I could have killed you. I want you to think about that tonight when you go to bed,” the officer said. “Everything you want to do in this life could’ve been over.”
Officer says he’s not exceptional
The two boys were not charged, Columbus police spokesperson Denise Alex-Bouzounis said.
She said Casuccio’s de-escalation training, which the department routinely does, played a role in keeping the situation calm.
The officer’s actions helped save the boy’s life and prevented “this situation from becoming a horrible national story.”
But Casuccio, a four-year veteran, said he is “not this gem.”
“I’m not an anomaly,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of police officers feel the same way. They do the same thing.”
Casuccio said the encounter has caught national attention, but “I guarantee you … these same actions and types of encounters are happening all around the country.”