So a friend posted the video below, saying it made her blood boil. Fact is, I am not convinced she’s got anything to be upset about. Don’t get me wrong, it’s always tragic when we as civilians or the police have to use deadly force. While tragic, it isn’t necessarily wrong.
In this video, the decedent’s mother answers the door for the police. When asked what’s wrong, the mother says her son is “just off the chain,” “incoherent, “talking about chopping up people,” and “bi-polar schizo” when the decedent appears right behind her with a screwdriver in hand. That’s a really important fact. The screwdriver is a potential weapon with at least a 4-inch long tip. If you don’t think a screwdriver that long won’t go right through a typical Level IIA or Level III vest and potentially kill the person wearing said vest, you’re wrong. It may as well be a prison yard shank and it’s just as deadly as a knife and unlike a gun, it doesn’t run out of ammo.
When, the decedent appeared at the door with the screwdriver in hand, we clearly hear both officers calmly tell the decedent to put the screwdriver down. We hear the decedent’s mother start screaming his name, “James!” And we see the decedent moving toward other officer in the video. We can’t see the decedent’s hands in the video. However, the change in tone of the officers’ voices and that of the decedent’s mother strongly suggest that the decedent wasn’t putting down the screwdriver as we see him move toward that second officer and his own mother, both of whom start moving away. It’s only then that we hear the first officer fire four rounds in a little bit more than a second. Then we see the decedent on the ground still moving as the officer continues to tell him to “drop the it.” The officers then make radio calls for help and go through the process of securing the scene which is exactly what they are supposed to do.
Now, one MIGHT be able to argue that a taser might have been a better alternative than shooting the decedent. That is debatable. I’d also say it’s an argument ignorant of the fact that tasers are typically a one shot, all or nothing device that doesn’t always work as advertised. If the taser failed to stun the decedent in this situation, the officer wouldn’t have time to insert a new stun cartridge to fire another set of darts in time to prevent the decedent from stabbing the second officer or his own mother with the screwdriver.
Legally and practically, the question will come down to whether the officer reasonably believed the decedent was using or attempting to use unlawful deadly force against the officer himself or a third person. The video, to me at least, strongly suggests the answer is yes. Under the law, the use of deadly force in that situation is justified and you’ll be hard pressed to find a grand jury to return an indictment (true bill) against the officer or anyone else in the same situation. Even if you did get a grand jury to indict him, nothing about this video suggests brutality, racism, or even glee on the part of the officers about the idea of shooting someone.
Yes, it is tragic the man died. And it is truly sad that his mental illness as well as his and apparently his mother’s inability to manage that illness led her to call the police to come deal with it. Mentally ill or not, if he’s moving toward the officer or someone else with a weapon in hand, the officer will react to a threat to their own lives or anyone else’s based on their training, the law, and a human instinct for self-preservation. And again, it will boil down to whether or not the officer’s actions are reasonable. But, if anyone wants to argue that what the officer did was wrong, please, give me a logical and factual counter argument.