There have been quite a few people shot resisting arrest or simply making bad decisions within the past few months. Just as bad, there has been an incredible amount of stupidity displayed among some in the general public, many of whom describe these deaths as “murders.”
Those deaths include:
- Philando Castille, shot during a traffic stop in Minnesota (his girlfriend filmed the aftermath of the shooting in a video that went viral)
- Alton Sterling, a serial criminal shot while resisting arrest in Baton Rouge (there were two videos of this shooting)
- Paul O’Neal, an unarmed car thief shot in the back after nearly running on officer down and hitting two more head-on in Chicago.
- Korryn Gaines, who took her 5-year-old son hostage and repeatedly pointed a shotgun at police before the final gun battle
- Syville Smith, a serial criminal in Milwaukee who was shot during a foot chase just over a week ago
- Kenney Watkins, who fled a motorcycle cop in Los Angeles before turning on the officer with a gun in his hand two days ago
I’ve spend many hours in the past two months investigating each one of these shootings as much as possible, and it’s been frankly amazing to see on social media what people seem to think the rules of engagement are between law enforcement officers and suspects.
There are a stunning number of people arguing that officers should not be allowed to fire at a suspect:
- who announces “I have a gun” and then reaches behind his hip
- who reaches for a recognized gun partially exposed in his pocket, after being warned by police not to do it
- who attempted to run a cop over, slammed a car into two more, and who was thought to be armed when fleeing
- who pointed guns at police numerous times
- who turned with a gun in his hand towards a pursuing officer
I have news for these people: while each and every single one of this incidents is an open investigation, the facts of all of the cases suggest that the use of deadly force was both legal and morally defensible.
Of the shootings listed above, the only actually tragic death was the shooting of Philando Castille. Castille had been pulled over for matching the description of an armed robbery suspect. Castille had no criminal record, and was a concealed carry permit holder who was armed at the time of the stop. When the officer approached Castille, there was allegedly a deadly miscommunication.
When the officer approached Castille’s door, Castille tried to inform the officer that he was a concealed carry permit holder, but did so in a manner that was so incredibly wrong that his exact words and motions have been used in firearms training classes as an example of what not to do when an officer approaches to make contact for as long as I can remember.
Castille reportedly told the approaching officer that “I have a gun” and reached behind his hip. Castille was ostensibly reaching for his wallet, but the officer heard “I’ve got a gun,” saw Castille reaching behind his hip, where guns are frequently carried, and was forced by the totality of circumstances to assume that Castille had a gun and was indeed reaching for it to use against the officer.
Both hardcore criminals with designs on murdering officers and emotionally-disturbed people intending “suicide-by-cop” have said those exact same words and made that same behind-the-hip reach, and the story must end the same way every time. Officers are trained to draw and fire their weapons (or if their sidearm is at a ready position, to raise, aim, and fire) when a suspect appears to be reaching for a weapon. The officer no doubt feels horrible over Mr. Castille’s death, and it will be a burden he will carry with him for the rest of his life. His response, however, was as it had to be.
I have covered use-of-force incidents for a number of years, and have friends in both military and civilian law enforcement with a combined total of several centuries of experience. Not once have I ever heard of a single incident where an officer attempting to take someone into custody was resisted by a suspect and the officer said, “You know, you’re right! Your use of violence has compelled me to let you go. Have a nice day!”
If approached by a law enforcement officer, speak calmly, act rationally, make your case to him or her as best you can, but if they decide that they want to take you in custody, don’t resist arrest.
Far from lessening your problem, you’re compounding it. A misdemeanor charge that you may easily get dismissed can turn into much more serious felony charges, and may force the officer to use higher levels of force along the force continuum to bring you into custody.
I’ve sampled some of the various compliance techniques available to officers in training, and I frankly don’t like being on the receiving end. The various chemical sprays carried by officers to convince you that your behavior is inappropriate are likewise unpleasant, and I suspect full-power blows with batons are even less fun. Bullets? Count me out entirely.
You would think that relatively self-evident, but a stunning number of people escalate the situation by verbally or physically threatening officers, and a stunning number of people go beyond mere threats to actual physical violence against an officer.
Again, this is only going to make the situation worse.
Odds are that you aren’t going to get away, that criminal charges against you that are going to haunt you the rest of your life are going to start stacking up, and if the officer thinks that you’re a credible threat of overpowering him or her and taking your weapon, that officer has every legal right to shoot you, even if you are technically “unarmed” and haven’t yet gained control of the officer’s weapon.
Don’t believe me? Ask Mike Brown. Attempting to take Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson’s gun is what got shot him the first time in the officers marked police SUV, and it got him killed when he decided he was going to charge in a second time.
That officer loves his or her family, and would like to be a part of their lives for as many years as possible. If your dumb *ss pulls a club, or a knife, or a gun, or tries to run a cop over, hints at reaching for a weapon, or poses a deadly force threat to that officer in any way, they’re going to burn you down. The judicial system will conduct a fair an impartial investigation, and render a verdict 99 times out of a 100 of “sucks to be you.”
That doesn’t fair to you? Tough crap. Life isn’t fair.
If you commit to threats or violence against a law enforcement officer, they have the legal right to exceed your level of violence to take you into custody, and if they can’t do it with persuasion, brute strength, or the array of tools on their bat belt, you can rest assured that the other officers responding to the scene will be change the odds when they arrive.
You noticed the little *? Good.
In general, the Supreme Court’s ruling in Tennessee vs. Garner says that officers can’t shoot a fleeing suspect, but there are exceptions to that rule.
As Paul O’Neal, Syville Smith, and Kenney Watkins have all learned the hard way in recent weeks, police officers do have the legal right to shoot a fleeing felon if they believe that criminal is (a) armed; and (b), a threat to the lives of pursuing officers or the public at large. That’s pretty cut-and-dried with the Smith and Watkins cases as a matter of law, as both men had guns in their hands when shot. O’Neal, on the other hand was merely thought to be armed by the pursuing officer who shot him in the back.
Did that officer violate department policy? Yeah… by not having his body camera on during the shooting. Did he break the law for shooting what he perceived to be an armed threat in the back.
I’m a jerk sometimes, a fact that I freely admit.
I am, however, unfailingly polite to the law enforcement officers I’ve encountered during my 45 years of life. That includes the half dozen or so encounters I’ve had with officers while armed, and the time that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time when officers were looking for an armed robbery suspect.
I knew I had done nothing wrong when Officer Spampanato came flying up in a cruiser and stepped out with his gun drawn, but he didn’t know that yet. All he knew is that the convenience store two blocks over had just gotten knocked off, the suspect had run in this direction, and when he rolled up seconds after the robbery, I was the only soul in the area in the pre-dawn hours on a residential street with no thru traffic.
What did I do when I saw the cruiser come flying up to my location?
I froze, and slowly turned towards the officer as his take-down lights blazed to life and his Crown Vic slid to a halt. I made sure my arms were away from my body, my empty palms towards the officer.
When I heard him step out of his vehicle (you can’t see crap through takedown lights at night from that close), I simply said, “Hi,” Or may it was, “Hello, officer.”
When he asked what I was doing, I told him I was delivering newspapers (which I was), and nodded towards my parked car with the engine running, passenger seat filled with copies of the Times Herald-Record.
Requests were followed. I was cleared as a suspect. I went back to my job. He went back to his. Life went on.
Even if I had been the armed robber, Officer Spampanato had me cold. Sure, I would be facing charges for knocking off the store(it’s an occupational hazard), but if I resisted, I would very likely wind up dead, or injured with several dozen years in prison tacked on to my sentence.
It’s real simple, folks. Treat police officers the way you would want to be treated, and you’ll all go home at night.
Well, you might not. You might end up in jail.
It still beats assuming ambient temperature under a white sheet.