A Police Shooting: What Would YOU Do?

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One day in the life of a city in the Midwest, a young man was shot. Throughout the years, this had been a peaceful city and its police department enjoyed great trust and respect in the community; even among the poor and people of color. Few people had been shot by police. The few that had were usually involved in a serious crime and there was little public  concerns about their deaths.

This time it appeared to be different. The man who was shot was a young white man, small of stature, educated, and lived in a liberal, middle class neighborhood. He was not a bad man. Yes, he had been drinking and he did not follow the orders of the police who were sent to what they believed was residential burglary in progress around 3 o’clock  in the morning.

Three days later, the police chief held a press conference and described what he believed had happened. The man who was shot was walking home from a local bar. He recently moved to the neighborhood and apparently entered the wrong house (one of the occupants had inadvertently left a key in their front door lock). When one of the residents heard the man enter, they called police. Within minutes, the first officer arrived. He said he saw two men struggling in the front yard. He ordered both of them to “get down.” The homeowner complied but the other man did not. Instead, he approached the officer and attempted to grab the officer’s gun. Three shots were fired from a distance of 3-4 feet hitting the man in the chest and instantly killing him. A second officer arrived on the scene just as the man was shot. The chief said it was “a deadly force situation.”

As the facts unfolded, many people in the city questioned the actions of the police officer. The police union came to the officer’s defense explaining this was a deadly situation and a citizen should never try to disarm a police officer without suffering serious consequences. The officer involved is on the union board of directors and was a 15 year veteran.

The parents of the man, who also lived in the city, retained a prominent civil rights attorney to represent them. The couple who reported the incident also retained legal representation.

Approximately six weeks later, the district attorney concluded, after reviewing the case, that the officer was reasonably in fear for his life and, therefore, justified in using deadly force. He described the situation just prior to the shooting:  “The man came at [the officer] rapidly, grabbed his outstretched left hand with one hand, and reached across his body toward his gun with the other.” He also revealed the deceased man was intoxicated (.208 percent blood alcohol).

Now the next step rests with the city’s police chief. What does he do? For he is on the “horns of a dilemma.” The district attorney has now legally exonerated the officer. Now the chief will have to decide whether the officer violated any department rules during the incident.

The authority to fire a police officer, however, does not rest with the police chief but rather in an appointed of police commissioners under the laws of the state. The chief can take other forms of discipline such as suspension without pay, but the decision to fire a police officer is in the hands of this commission.

The department’s policy manual with regard to using deadly force reads as follows:

Recognizing our legal and moral obligation to use force wisely and judiciously, it is the policy of this department that deadly force will never be resorted to unless an officer reasonably believes that a lesser degree of force would be insufficient to defend the life of another, one’s self, or in limited situations, to apprehend a dangerous felon, or control an animal.”

If the chief takes no action toward  the officer (who has two prior use of force complaints) there will be a strong reaction from the community asking questions such as these: “Aren’t police officers trained to use techniques in these situations short of deadly force?” “Should I be worried now that if I call the police to handle a disturbance, someone may be shot and killed?” “What if this was my teenage son who got drunk and acted this way? Would the police shoot him, too?”

On the other hand, if the chief finds the officer violated department rules and disciplines him, there will also be a strong reaction from within the ranks of the police department and from some members of the community. They will ask these questions: “You mean that if someone reasonably threatens to take an officer‘s  life, he or she cannot use deadly force for protection?” “Police have a difficult job to do, and if this man had complied with the officer’s order to stand down, would this have happened — isn’t this the suspect’s fault?” “Do you think it’s fair to discipline police officers when they are lawfully protecting their life or ours?”

If YOU were the chief of police, WHAT would you do and WHY would you do it?

Then, what would you do to address those who would DISAGREE with your decision?

13 Comments

  1. I feel that the officer acted outside the realm of his duty, the officer is trained to handle a situation like this without the use of deadly force. The officer is taller and bigger then the person resisting, and he should have been capable to control the individual without the use of deadly force. The officer should at the very least be reprimanded and put in an internal position in the department so he would NOT be put into a situation like this again. The officer should be charged with manslaughter, NO other way to look at this terrible conflict.

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  2. Among other things, i think the Chief needs some data to help guide his decision. Given the number of officers on the force and number of times officers have shot or shot at unarmed civilians, how likely (or unlikely) is it that this particular officer has been involved in more than one such incident? I’d like the Chief to hire a statistical consultant and announce the results.

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  3. After reading the just released ‘Internal Investigation’ of the tragic death of Paul Heenan shot by a MPD officer, it looks more and more like a confluence of circumstances–a proverbial ‘set up’ situation. And I have to admit, our culture at the present time, makes the use of deadly force all the more precarious for those empowered to legally use it. Thus the need for the highest level of screening and training. This leads to one of the biggest questions and concerns I am left with: Is MPD’s training regarding recognition and engagement with seriously intoxicated individuals adequate?
    It seems to me that, in this case, it could have made the difference literally between life and death.

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    1. I agreed with you about deadly force being used in these times. It seems that the cops are like the people in the violent Wild West where you shoot first at any slight real or imagine provocation. When it comes to dealing with protestors, the police seem to always set up a situation with or without their undercover officers where the protestors can’t win and then the protestors get blame for anything that goes wrong.

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  4. If the officer was in the wrong, he/she has got to paid the price; otherwise, what is the point of disciplining police officers if you can’t or won’t do it. Did the officer have non deadly tools to subdue the guy? if not why not since the police departments are being given a lot of equipment from the military which should also have non lethal stuff like tasers?

    What department rules did the cop violate is the question I would also asks. Besides if your are drunk, then how are you suppose to complied with a cop’s order if you are not in a normal state of mind. Many drunks state that they have no idead of what they were doing after they got drunk and their minds black out.

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  5. To me, this is simple, but I understand common sense is nearly dead in this country. If the use of deadly force was justified, I would do nothing. If the Officer acted within the polices of the department and the law, what else is there to do? I understand this course may lead to a small portion of the public trying to pressure you as a chief. So what needs to be done is open up dialogue between you, your department trainers, and the persons who do not understand why the officer was not punished. If the public does not understand what constitutes the use of deadly force, or any force for that matter, I feel we should educate those who constantly monday morning quarterback the Police, even though Graham v Conner says Police cannot be judged using hindsite.

    Many people who do not have experience in the military, security, or law enforcement do not understand properly applied use of force. We will get questions such as “why couldn’t the officer have just shot the knife out of the suspect’s hand?” or “Why can’t an officer just shoot him in the foot?” It is not the job of department admin to bow to angry spectators who know little about the incident or those who assume the incident may have been racially motivated. Instead, show them the realities. Be transparant.

    As the chief of police, you work for the community, city hall, and the employees, not just one of these, but all of them. It is your job to develop practices that promote transparency to allow a better understanding of why police do what they do. It is also your job to ensure your employees are properly trained which brings me to another issue.

    Did the officer in question receive adequate training for this type of situation? If he didn’t, why not? Poppow v. Margate says officers should be trained for handling situations they are likely to encounter. If the officer had not received training for this situation, then the department is NEGLIGENTLY LIABLE. If he did receive training specific to this situation, then we can look at why he was not able, or refused to use that training.

    Punishing this officer for a justified use of force will inflict more harm on your department than you know. First you must acknowledge the officer safety issue of doing such a thing. The next time an officer is faced with a deadly force threat, the possibility of being “punished” may cause them to hesitate and cost them their life or the lives of others. This will be blood on your hands. Do you want the perception that officers defending themselves or others will be crucified for doing what your department trained them to do? There is more accountability in law enforcement than there has ever been. I’ve never met a co-worker in my years of military and law enforcement that looked forward to using deadly force. Have you? I bet not, but it is an unfortunate and traumatic event some of our brothers and sisters will face. Whether they are correct or wrong in their actions, they will receive scrutiny from the public. If they are wrong the scrutiny will be more severe. If they are correct though, they should be supported by their department, not treated like a criminal. Just my 2 cents from a guy on the ground with a bit of leadership experience

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    1. “Many people who do not have experience in the military, security, or law enforcement do not understand properly applied use of force.”

      Too many military people, security people, and law enforcement do not understand nor know how to use force properly.despite their years of experience. Furthermore, at RNC convention in Minnesota, a few years ago, the Republican Party set up a special fund for the police in case they got sue by the protestors. In addition you now have dracoian laws that were created after 9/11 that gives the police more board powers to fight terrorism but at the same time destroy our Bill of Rights and the US Constitution. To me, it is things like those that actully guarantees that the police will violate their own policies and produres of applying proper force without having to face the consequences.

      Just because you serve in the military, security, and/or in law enforcement in no way guarantees that you will always follow the proper use of force. Look at that UC Davis Lieutenant who prepper spray the protestors without any kind of justication when it came to the use of force. That cuts no ice with me.

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  6. After the hurriane in New Orleans, you had the New Orleans police inappropriately use force to kill some people and then claim that they were being shot at (turn out to be false). There was another incidernt where the New Orleans police use inappropriate use of force to kill someone and then burn the body. It took an investigator reporter to bring down those cops Those cops had blood on their hands.

    The police use inappropriate use of force against reporters like Amy Goodman of Democracy Now and all she ask to talk to a police supervisor regarding the arrests of two of her reporters. Furthermore, there were reporters who were beaten by the police even though they clearly wore their press badges and told the police that they were reporters.

    “I’ve never met a co-worker in my years of military and law enforcement that looked forward to using deadly force.” I bet you that in the Deep South for a long time there were law enforcement people who looked forward to using deadly force and did use deadly force against civil right activists, labor union activists, striking workers, and they had blood on their hands and had no shred of conscience about using it. I don’t like it when cops treated people who are execising their political, social, and eocnomic rights as criminals.

    Cops are facing increasing scutiny from the public but only thanks to new technology that catches them in the act; however, that is why many states have laws to forbid the public from using the technology to monitor police behavior. Even if the cops are caught in the act, it doesn’t guarantee that they will get the death penalty or a very, very long stretch in prison..

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  7. There was an incident at a protest event, a few years ago in Boward Country, FL. A woman was walking away from a deputy sheriff who was pointing a bean bag gun at her head for no reason. He then shot her in the head with the bean bag gun for no reason, Did his fellow officers arrest him and charge him for assault and battery plus police misconduct. No they did not.

    As a matter of fact, the deputy sergeant praise him and his fellow officers applause him. The sergeant and his men refer to the protesters as crock roaches. If it wasn’t for new technology cameras and recorders on cell phones that incident would have never seen the light of day. Don’t tell me about officers being afraid to use force for fear of getting sue. This cop knew what he was doing and sadly, his fellow officers back him up. This cop was lucky that he did not kill that lady; otherwise, the blood would be on his hands and the whole department. Think about that for a change.

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  8. Broward County Sheriff Department later stated that no policies regarding this incident were violated. Not surprise nor disappointed by their statement.

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