Most of the “Oh my God, cops shot a guy they shouldn’t have!” outrage we come across tends to come from the family of a violent criminal lying about the circumstances of a case. In most instances the outrage quickly peters out once the suspect turns out to have been an armed threat whom the officer or officers were justified in shooting… sometimes a lot.
This is not one of those cases.
Dash cam footage from the November 25 incident shows the driver, 26-year-old Andrew Thomas, crashing his SUV. His wife was ejected from the window and died at the scene, reports CBSN’s Vladimir Duthiers.
Feaster walks towards the car and fires one shot, hitting Thomas in the neck as he attempted to get out through the window. Twenty-five seconds, later Feaster describes Thomas as being uncooperative.
“I’ve got an unresponsive female, I’ve got a male in the car refusing to get out,” Feaster could be heard saying in the dash-cam video.
Thomas had a blood alcohol level nearly twice the legal limit. He’s facing vehicular manslaughter charges in his wife’s death and may be paralyzed from the waist down.
But hundreds of protesters in Paradise are calling for Officer Feaster to be removed from the force. They’re outraged he won’t be facing criminal charges.
“Cop pulling guns on people when it’s in a car accident — that’s insane,” one protester said.
“There’s something wrong with that cop. He’s crazy,” another said.
Prosecutors called the shooting an accident, saying Feaster “did not intentionally fire his pistol” and that “he was in shock at the scene and not certain his weapon had actually discharged.”
But they have no explanation for why it took Feaster 11 minutes to report that he had fired his gun.
“The 11 minutes waiting to notify is awful. Regardless, can we prove a case of intentional discharge of that weapon beyond a reasonable doubt? We could not,” District Attorney Mike Ramsey said.
The linked CBS news story above doesn’t include Officer Feaster’s dashcam video, but we have it here.
Feaster is in pursuit of Thomas, but it’s unclear whether or not Thomas was aware that Feaster was behind him. The first we clearly see of Thomas’s SUV is when it has already flipped and is sliding to a stop at :54 into the film.
Feaster’s police cruiser comes to a halt a short distance from the the SUV. Thomas’s wife Darien Ehorn has been ejected from the vehicle and is critically injured or already dead directly in front of the overturned vehicle (her image is blurred out in the video).
At 1:05, you see the first clear signs of Mr. Thomas beginning to emerge from the SUV, which is laying on it’s side. He puts both hands up through the shattered side door window and presses down with both arms to lift himself up.
At 1:07 you see Officer Feaster enter the left side frame of the camera with his hand on his pistol. As Thomas presses down to propel himself up and out of the vehicle, Officer Feaster draws his pistol, extends it directly at Thomas and presses off a single shot at 1:08 as soon as his arm reaches full extension, as captured below.
A clearly unarmed Thomas, shot once through the spine, drops as if axed back through the window into the vehicle.
Feaster immediately holsters his weapon and moved past Ehorn without appearing to even glance at her, then peered down into the SUV at the crumpled Thomas from 1:13 to 1:22. He steps back, grabs his flashlight from his duty belt, and then steps forward again to look at Thomas some more. At 1:33, he finally keys his mike to report, “I’ve got an unresponsive female and a male in the car refusing to get out.”
Officer Feaster doesn’t attempt to help either Ehorn, dead or dying at his feet, nor Thomas, whom he’d just shot. He instead stands there with his flashlight and sweeps the ground with it… perhaps looking for the shell casing from the round he’d just expended.
Two other officers arrive and quickly assess the situation. One almost immediately puts on nitrile gloves and begins chest compressions on Ehorn in an effort to keep her heart pumping blood until the paramedics arrive.
Feaster and the other officer peer into the SUV as the third officer continues chest compressions on Ehorn.
The dash camera runs until 6:35. The one officer appears to be attempting to save Ehorn life throughout, and Feaster and the third officer make some attempt to peel away with sunroof and the windshield of the SUV with their hands, but they simply lack the tools to do so.
4-6 minutes after the dashcam video concluded, Officer Feaster finally tells someone that he discharged his weapon.
* * *
I understand a bit about what happens to your body under stress. I understand that people may develop intense tunnel vision and auditory exclusion as they focus on potential threats.
But Feaster’s shooting of Mr. Thomas was not by any definition an “accident.”
He drew his weapon, established a two-handed grip, pressed the gun out and cleanly broke the shot as his arms reached full extension and his front sight came on the target. If you look at his body language, his entire body then briefly recoils as if in surprise. He was clearly aware that he fired a shot, even if he didn’t intend to.
He then watched Thomas collapse into the vehicle and holstered his weapon.
I don’t know of any better way to say it, other than to say that the video shows that this was not an accidental shooting, and that Feaster had to be aware that he shot Thomas.
This was either an intentional shooting of an unarmed man, or a negligent discharge that resulted in the shooting of an unarmed man, committed by an officer who did not have any obvious reason to draw his weapon. No matter how many times I view this footage, or trying to put myself in Feaster’s proverbial shoes can I seen any excuse for him drawing his weapon.
Nor can I view this footage as District Attorney Mike Ramsey did, along with the other evidence, and come to any other conclusion that Officer Patrick Feaster should be charged with a crime. While I am not an expert on California laws, this would appear to be either assault with a deadly weapon, or assault with a firearm.
I think an outside agency need to review the evidence in this case. This was by any definition a bad shooting, and in my opinion, Officer Feaster should be brought up on charges.
When that investigation concludes that Feaster is criminally negligent for discharging his firearm as it frankly must, a second investigation may be warranted to understand why Feaster wasn’t charged initially.
This was a very bad, very obvious shooting of an unarmed wreck survivor by a police officer.
The citizens of Paradise have every reason to feel outraged.
Update: The CBS News story did not have Thomas’s wife name. I’ve now updated all references her name.