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Saturday, May 29, 2021

A Police Killing in St. Louis Remains Shrouded in Darkness

Posted By and on Sat, May 29, 2021 at 6:58 AM

Page 6 of 7

click to enlarge Antoine Bufford poses for a portrait at his home on May 16, 2021, in St. Louis. - MICHAEL B. THOMAS FOR THE INTERCEPT
  • Antoine Bufford poses for a portrait at his home on May 16, 2021, in St. Louis.

Cream of Wheat

The morning before Bufford died, his dad made him breakfast. Oatmeal, turkey sausage, cream of wheat, toast.

“I’m up every morning fixing him breakfast,” Antoine Bufford says, speaking in the present tense, as though Cortez is still there beside him. “That’s what I do every morning for him, seven days a week, make sure he has his breakfast.”

They ate together. Antoine Bufford was leaving that day to visit Cortez’s brother in Texas. He tried one last time to get his son to come with him, to leave town.

“You should go,” he pushed. A fresh start, he said. It’s not safe here, he warned. “I’ve just got some things I need to do,” Cortez told him.

His son didn’t want to leave home. But when Bufford gets to thinking about it, he feels that he should have made him leave.

“You’re his father,” he tells himself. “Don’t let him make those kinds of decisions, even though he’s grown.”

But Cortez didn’t want to be forced out. He would try to reason with his parents. “Why do I have to uproot my life?” he said. “I’m not doing anything wrong.”

Just Put Him in Handcuffs

“Please stop! PLEASE stop!”

That’s what Roethlisberger said he remembers shouting as he chased Bufford into the gangway. Bufford turned around and faced him, Roethlisberger told investigators.

“At that time, I’m making a quick reaction in my mind that I need a back-up. I need the back-up. And then before I know it, that I’m backing up, I see him pulling the firearm from the bag and then turning over towards me and then at — ” Roethlisberger’s voice cracks with emotion in his police video interview.

He tries to start again: “And then at that time — ”

Another voice crack. Roethlisberger sits in silence with investigators for more than 30 seconds as he tries to regain his composure.

“I’m sorry,” he says.

Then another 15 seconds or so pass before he resumes.

“So, I know he’s pointing the gun at me. The first thing, I pull out my gun. I’m left-handed, grab hold of the gun. I run. I’m aiming with my sights, and I’m backing up, and I said, ‘Drop the gun! Drop the gun!’ as loud as I could. And then, fearing for my life, shot a round, and I’m just backin’ up, shooting, backing up, backing up, because there was no cover at all.”

The fatal tunnel.

Roethlisberger backed up all the way to the corner of one of the Bates houses, but he still had his gun pointing at Bufford when he saw his partner in the Tahoe pull up. He kept holding down the position “because he could start shooting at us,” Roethlisberger said.

Officer #2 — his name is Martinous Walls — was the first to come to the gangway. Other officers soon followed. He had originally tried to cut off Bufford’s path by driving close to the other side of the wood fence. After hearing the shots fired, he looped back around to Bates.

“Luke, where are you?” Walls called into the darkness from the Tahoe.

“I’m over here,” Roethlisberger said.

When Walls hopped out and walked the length of the gangway, all the way to the end, he found Bufford’s lifeless body. He could tell he wasn’t breathing and figured there wasn’t anything he could do to render aid other than call EMS, Walls later told investigators in a video interview. Walls did not respond to requests for comment.

Two other responding officers showed up to the gangway.

“What should I do?” Walls asked.

“Just put him in handcuffs,” one of the officers said.

Roethlisberger offered to do it himself: “If you’re going to put handcuffs on him, then I’m going to put handcuffs on him.”

“No, no, no,” the officer told him, pushing him away, according to Roethlisberger’s video interview. “Back up.”

Shortly after his lieutenant came to the scene, Roethlisberger retreated to the Tahoe. Then, when EMS arrived, he was shepherded to the ambulance so the paramedics could take his vitals. To make sure he was OK, Roethlisberger remembers. He took off his duty belt and uniform shirt. And his bulletproof vest.

While paramedics evaluated him, his lawyer had quickly arrived to counsel him, beating force investigators to the scene. Then he had to go back to police headquarters to take a drug test and breathalyzer, before being relieved of his duties, Roethlisberger says. “I went back home,” he concluded his statement.

It was time to take the investigators’ questions.

When he pulled out the gun, was that something you were expecting?

Roethlisberger told them he was hoping it wasn’t going to happen like that, but the situation was getting serious. Worse and worse, he said, and Bufford just wouldn’t give up.

In response to a request for comment, the SLMPD emailed the following statement: “As to your request regarding the case involving the two officers mentioned, the department does not speak on prior or pending litigation.”

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