Video: Man shot by East Lansing cops appears not to pay for Meijer corn

Footage shows Lansing man bagging unpaid produce at checkout lane

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TUESDAY, May 17 — Newly released video footage appears to show a man leaving a store without paying for a few ears of sweet corn  before fleeing police and being shot by two cops in the parking lot of a local Meijer.

A trove of footage released this week by the city of East Lansing shows what occurred inside the Lake Lansing Road Meijer  on April 25 before two rookie officers shot off eight rounds at a 20-year-old Lansing man who was reportedly seen with a pistol in the parking lot.

In the videos, DeAnthony Thomas-Scott VanAtten can be seen strolling the grocery store — collecting a box of macaroni and cheese and a few ears of sweet corn before heading to the self-checkout lanes on the eastern side of the grocery store. There, he appears to only scan the macaroni — skipping the corn — before bagging up his items and heading toward the west exit.

The Lansing State Journal published a misleading headline about the newly released videos: “Video released by East Lansing police appears to show man buying items before shooting.” FOX 47 News also followed suit with another one: “Newly released video shows man who was shot buying corn, mac and cheese.” Neither outlet acknowledged the apparent corn theft.

Here’s what we know (and what we already knew) based on the video footage released so far:

VanAtten parked a silver Chevy Equinox at Meijer at 6:34 p.m. Security footage showed him exit the SUV wearing a black ski mask and sprint through the parking lot toward the store before he returns to the vehicle, reaches inside and then runs back toward the western grocery entrance.

Two minutes later, an unidentified woman called 911 to report that she had just seen a masked Black man pocket a gun from his SUV and head inside Meijer. Ingham County dispatchers relayed the message (and VanAtten’s physical description as relayed by the woman caller) to local officers as a “weapons complaint,” also noting: “He’s not threatening anybody with it.”

The first two officers arrived on scene at 6:43 p.m. and went inside to look for a suspect. At least two other officers were close behind, still in the parking lot. At a press conference last week, Johnson declined to specify why four separate officers were called to the store that evening or elaborate on what specific sort of criminal behavior may have been under investigation there.

(Authorities have also not acknowledged any allegations of retail fraud tied to the incident.)

The new video footage showed VanAtten going through a self-checkout lane with his sweet corn and macaroni and cheese just moments before the two officers entered the store. He scanned the macaroni and then placed the corn directly into a grocery bag without scanning it.

He also doesn’t appear to weigh the corn or punch in the additional keystrokes that would be necessary to complete a produce transaction at a self-checkout lane at Meijer. Afterward, he scanned his Bridge card, grabbed the plastic grocery bag with both items and walked away. 

It's unclear whether VanAtten intentionally failed to scan the corn. 

As VanAtten approached the western exit, two police officers entered through the doorway. VanAtten appeared to see the officers and began moving away from them, eventually breaking into a full-on sprint as he headed toward the eastern entrance with two officers in close pursuit. 

Before the two officers inside could catch up, VanAtten appeared to dart out the east entrance.

The only body camera footage of VanAtten inside the store shows a third officer pointing a stun gun at him in the small lobby area between the automatic doors. That cop also gave VanAtten the first audible verbal command of the day: “Hey. Let me see your fucking hands.”

With his plastic shopping bag in his right hand, VanAtten ignored the directive and pushed open the front door with his empty left hand before sprinting west through the crowded parking lot — completing what could become the final element to constitute a potential retail fraud charge.

Multiple officers can be heard telling VanAtten to stop and threatening to shoot him with a stun gun while they chase him west toward his Equinox parked on the other side of the parking lot.

“Get on the ground. Get on the fucking ground. You’re going to get tazed,” one of them shouted.

About a minute into the pursuit, one officer — still running several yards ahead of the others — can be heard on tape claiming to have seen VanAtten pull out a pistol as he turned back east.

“He’s reaching. He’s reaching. He’s got a gun,” one cop shouted to the others before taking cover along the side of a nearby pickup truck and then firing two bullets in VanAtten’s direction.

A simultaneous “shots fired” call was reported over the radio to dispatchers at 6:46 p.m.

Because of the chestline positioning of the officer’s body camera, VanAtten was not visible on the body camera footage when the first two shots were fired. Parking lot surveillance footage showed a small metallic object in VanAtten’s hand, but it’s not readily identifiable as a gun.

After being alerted to the presence of a gun, a second officer who was still following close behind took cover behind a nearby vehicle, steadied his aim and then fired six more shots at VanAtten — who appeared to be unarmed — as he made his way into the officer’s sightline.

After being shot, VanAtten stumbled and fell to the ground. He shouted: “I can’t breathe”. His girlfriend was also seen on footage frantically screaming at officers with their eight-month-old child in tow. Her most repeated phrase of the evening: “You just shot him for no fucking reason.”

After cuffing VanAtten, the officers quickly shifted their abrasive tone, repeatedly calling him “buddy” while they patched up his wounds. One officer used his belt as a tourniquet while the others started searching the scene for the gun that was reportedly seen in VanAtten’s hand.

All told, VanAtten was shot twice — once in the abdomen and once in the right leg. It’s unclear which of the eight shots from either Viera or Menser made contact, or where exactly the other six bullets may have landed in the parking lot. No additional injuries were reported at the scene.

Records released this month by the East Lansing Independent Police Oversight Commission identified Jose Viera and Jim Menser as the two cops who shot and injured VanAtten. ELPD Officer Jeff Horn also displayed his weapon. A fourth officer on scene has not been identified.

Less than two minutes later, one of the officers can be seen retrieving a gun from beneath a nearby parked car where VanAtten was also seen crouching on video footage during the pursuit. The East Lansing Fire Department arrived at 6:52 p.m. to take VanAtten to Sparrow Hospital.

While at the hospital, the State Police decided to detain VanAtten on an unrelated probation violation warrant tied to an outstanding Ingham County criminal case, county prosecutors said. A spokesman for the State Police has declined to answer questions about the situation.

Individuals licensed to carry concealed pistols in Michigan are only legally prohibited from carrying them in certain locations. Grocery stores like Meijer are not on that list of “prohibited premises.” Private property owners can still prohibit firearms from being carried on their premises regardless of whether the weapon is concealed. Violators can face trespass charges.

Viera’s attorney, Mike Nichols, confirmed this morning that the new video footage appears to show VanAtten stealing sweet corn from Meijer before the shooting. “It adds to the stupid factor and tells me that’s one of the reasons why he took off,” Nichols said.

East Lansing Police Captain Chad Pride declined to comment on the newly released video footage. Evidence shows the officers, however, were not aware of the possible theft when they arrived on the scene.

Though not at all relevant to the shooting, Nichols also emphasized VanAtten’s criminal record.

A Michigan State Police background report showed retail fraud convictions on VanAtten’s record. Because of his age, however, the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act ensures that portions of his criminal record will remain sealed indefinitely from public view — including the details and circumstances surrounding his latest detainment at the county jail, county officials explained.

County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth said his deputies “took over guard” of VanAtten at Sparrow Hospital on April 28 after being notified of his unrelated probation violation. No records of that probation violation exist in public court records. The Michigan State Police also indicated that VanAtten was out on bond on another unrelated and sealed criminal case during the shooting.

VanAtten was “medically cleared” to leave the hospital and taken to the county jail at 11:37 a.m. on May 2 — almost one full week after he was shot by the cops at Meijer. He was arraigned on his unrelated probation violation on May 4 and released later that afternoon, Wriggelsworth said.

Other details are still scarce while the State Police investigates and decides whether to request criminal charges against VanAtten, Viera or Menser — or perhaps all three. The case will be referred to Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel’s office for a final decision. East Lansing Police Chief Kim Johnson has also vowed to review all of his department’s relevant policies to help turn the city’s first officer-involved shooting into a learning experience for law enforcement.

VanAtten has since been released from custody and has not been charged with a crime.

Last week, he was reportedly recovering from his injuries at home. He has not spoken publicly about the incident though his mother, Burnette VanAtten, has since demanded “justice” for her son alongside leaders of the Lansing chapter of Black Lives Matter. At a press conference this month, chapter leaders contended that VanAtten had paid for all of the items at Meijer that day.

BLM officials do not respond to questions or requests for comment from City Pulse. Organizers have also requested that all communication to the family be funneled through their organization.

Nichols has also argued that the cops involved will soon be “cleared” of all wrongdoing.

The Michigan State Police have not released additional information about the incident. Most local elected officials have also kept their opinions to themselves as the probe continues. The East Lansing Police Oversight Commission spent more than two hours this month crafting a series of questions for city officials and the Michigan State Police regarding the shooting and the subsequent investigatory process. Some answers are due back before the end of the month.

Visit cityofeastlansing.com/videorelease to watch the publicly released video footage. Those experiencing trauma related to the incident can access mental health resources by calling 211.

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