The family of a man shot and killed by Lafayette police Friday says they are mourning and in disbelief, and their attorneys say they will be seeking answers and possible legal action.
Trayford Pellerin, 31, died after being shot outside a Shell gas station near NW Evangeline Thruway around 8 p.m. Friday. Louisiana State Police Trooper Derek Senegal said officers responded to a disturbance at a gas station on the opposite side of the Thruway and found Pellerin with a knife.
He avoided officers and walked roughly half a mile to the Shell station with officers in pursuit on foot, who deployed tasers that were ineffective, Senegal said. When he neared the door of the Shell gas station, offices fired at least 10 times, the scene captured on a bystander video widely shared on social media.
Senegal said Pellerin was still armed with the knife when the shooting took place.
Michelle Pellerin said she’s still trying to wrap her mind around the loss of her eldest child. Having not seen his body, it doesn’t feel real, she said.
“I’m still trying to understand what happened. Why did it have to go this far? Why him? Everybody talks about the video, but I haven’t seen it and I don’t want to see it. I can’t,” she said.
Michelle Pellerin described Trayford as a kind, intelligent, quiet and shy man who loved to cook, was close with his extended family and was caring and helpful. He worked odd jobs through temp agencies and did industrial work, including recently working on a construction project for apartments in the area, but had talked about the idea of returning to school and possibly studying law, she said.
He had seen things in the past, growing up in Lafayette, that made him hope for change, Michelle Pellerin said.
Choicey Pellerin, Trayford Pellerin’s aunt, said her mother was the last family member to see her nephew before his death. Grandson and grandmother visited on Thursday morning, with Trayford visiting her new home and sharing his excitement for his grandmother. He was happy, she said.
Trayford Pellerin called his grandmother twice more on Friday, and that was the last the family heard from him before his was fatally shot by police, Choicey Pellerin said. Michelle Pellerin said she wishes she could have a final moment with her son.
“There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for him. I would just want to be able to hold him and tell him one last time I love him,” the mother said.
National civil rights attorney Ben Crump said the family believes Trayford Pellerin may have been suffering from a mental health crisis at the time of his death. Michelle Pellerin said her son suffered from anxiety related to social situations and being in groups of people and had earlier this year sought professional help. She said she believes he may have been frightened by the group of officers coming at him.
“Instead of giving him a helping hand they gave him bullets,” Crump said.
Crump and co-counsel Ronald Haley said they plan to pursue the case aggressively and have begun independent interviews and investigations into the fatal shooting. Haley said he spoke to witnesses who said Trayford Pellerin was not armed with a knife, contrary to police reports. Haley said they will begin immediately requesting documents and evidence from law enforcement.
Haley said that, even if a knife was present, the bystander video shows there was no one in Trayford Pellerin’s vicinity and at most he was a danger to himself. Crump echoed Haley’s statement, noting the officers are trained for those situations and should have been able to find alternatives to lethal force.
Trayford Pellerin was not afforded human dignity, they said.
The two men said a civil lawsuit is planned. But, while acting quickly they won’t be hasty in filing.
Haley said they plan to build a strong fact-based case and want to see justice come out of any proceedings. In addition to damages, they’re also seeking reform within the police department and meaningful policy change.
“We want policy changes as well, so that Ben and I are not in the living room with another family in Lafayette dealing with this,” Haley said.