Lawful Police Commands and the Use of Deadly Force

Lawful Police Commands and the Use of Deadly Force

Recently, several men mostly and mostly black men, including Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Terence Crutcher, and Keith Scott, have died under controversial circumstances when confronting the police when arrested, approached, or detained. In most jurisdictions, the use of deadly force is justified only under conditions of extreme necessity as a last resort, when all lesser means have failed or cannot reasonably be employed, as this non-legal layman understands. So, when there is imminent and significant threat of death or great or serious bodily harm or injury, in most states and jurisdictions, an appropriate deadly-force response may be viewed as necessary, by both civilian and non-civilian folks. Of course, the factors and variables of the situation are of paramount importance. My non-attorney understanding is that deadly force by sworn police and law enforcement officers is usually lawful when the officer “reasonably” believes the subject poses a significant threat of serious bodily injury or death to themselves or others. Also, I think, as a layman, it is lawful when used to prevent the escape of a fleeing felon when the officer believes escape would pose a significant threat of serious bodily injury or death to members of the public. So there are established laws and guidelines to follow.

Of course, each unique situation has its own set of facts and variables… and subjective and emotional opinions and interpretations from several folks with different agendas and motives to consider. It is very difficult to know someone’s actual intentions… anytime. I believe that all or the large majority of police officers in the United States have a righteous motive to uphold the laws and have good intentions to serve and to protect. Of course, their lives are at stake every day while performing their duties and they are aware of that. There are many considerations in any deadly-force situation. Was a lawful command actually given? Like “Put your hands up in the air!” “Drop the weapon!” “Stop right there. Do not move!” “Get down on the ground!” Many questions to answer. Could you actually see that he clearly had a gun in his hand? What specifically made you believe that your life was threatened and that you had to shoot to protect yourself? Did you have any other alternative or option? Was that a “reasonable” action, given the circumstances?  There is that word “reasonable” again. We all know that what is reasonable for one may not be reasonable for another. But the U.S. Supreme Court defined that clearly in a particular Graham v. Connor 1989 case ruling. The Supreme Court expanded its “reasonable” definition to include an “objective reasonableness” standard, to avoid subjectivity. They expanded the standard definition to not be subjective as to what the officer’s intent might have been. Clarifying that reasonableness must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable police officer at the scene, and that its calculus must embody the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation. But, we know how difficult it is to generalize and implement seemingly clear and distinct words. There are unplanned furtive movements open for interpretation, nefarious acts, and disparity of force factors, as my previous articles explain.

Following deadly shootings by police officers, several police departments in the United States are looking into new and more safe lethal-force training approaches for officers and those involved, to augment body cameras which may not present clear and irrefutable evidence. Particularly, an approach about how to de-escalate emotionally charged confrontations. It is not fair nor appropriate to conclude that there are rogue, trigger-happy cops who do not know what they are doing and who are poorly trained. Respect begins with an attitude and proper training, usually in the home environment. The proper response does not include looting your neighborhood stores.

looting-baltimore

 

Police officers are trained to avoid the use of deadly force, unless lives are in danger… unless there is risk of death or great bodily harm. It is one thing to train police officers how to properly use a gun, but another to train them what kind of factors apply for using deadly force. After reading several of these recent cases, it is my opinion that those who were involved in these controversial situations were shot because the police officers perceived an imminent threat of death or great bodily injury if they did not use deadly force to stop it. Of course, whether or not this perception in each case was “reasonable” under the law remains to be understood. Sergeant Joe Friday on Dragnet the television show was correct. The facts ma’am, nothing but the facts. However, the facts of the circumstances are often blurry and not readily apparent. That uncertainty and lack of clear cut facts, motives, and actions are what make these deadly and instantaneous confrontations so scary, emotional, debatable, and challenging. In these quick, terrible situations, trying to second guess behaviors of everyone involved is a luxury after the occurrence. Perhaps, a pre-determined and accepted general mindset up front before the encounters occur would help derail some of the negative reactions, behaviors, and deadly consequences after the incident. Maybe for all involved being very conservative, pro-active, and cautious is a must. After all, we are talking about LIFE and DEATH situations here. Also, accepting that anyone involved with a police officer must obey ALL commands and directions of the police officer is critical. Even if you do not agree with the arrest, detainment, or questioning, having respect in general for the uniform and the job police officers are required to perform is very important. Law and order must prevail concurrent with respect for all parties. The facts and actions of the conflicting situation and encounter can hopefully be sorted out later safely in a court of law or privately between parties.

It is my opinion that they all or most of the individuals killed in the recent encounters with police would be alive today if they had just followed the lawful directions and commands of the police officers who were trying to question, arrest or detain them. So very sad and perhaps a harbinger for events to come, sadly! The police were doing their job and duties. To me, it makes sense that these men were probably not shot because they failed to follow police commands and directions, but because of the imminent death or serious bodily injury actions which were threats they overtly demonstrated to the police. The basis of most of these threatening actions probably stemmed from their deep-seated mindset against the police establishment which sparked their revolt against authority. This is largely learned from parental influence or lack of it. So, a furtive movement can get you killed. Of course, failure to comply does not justify shooting someone. Although the facts must speak for themself in each different situation, every attempt should be made first by all involved parties to de-escalate any confrontation to avoid the use or involvement of deadly force. Lives are at risk and not just those lives of the officer and the individual shot, but families and innocent bystanders.

Recently, Betty Shelby, the Tulsa Oklahoma police officer who shot Terence Crutcher, has been charged with first-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of an unarmed black man and booked into jail. The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office found she “reacted unreasonably” and became “emotionally involved to the point that she overreacted.” So, the case is working its way through the justice system, where a jury will likely decide whether offcer Shelby is guilty of the crime.

Another recent situation involved the shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte-Mecklenburg North Carolina. There are several videos of the shooting, including a police dashboard camera and an officer’s body-worn camera, in addition to other evidence. Police Chief Kerr Putney remains adamant that Scott was holding a handgun when he was shot. A video of the incident shot by Scott’s wife strongly suggests Scott was indeed armed with a handgun as he exited his car. Officers can be heard repeatedly ordering him to drop the gun. Indeed, just before the fatal shots were fired, Scott’s wife can be heard saying, “Keith, don’t you do it!” It’s unclear in the video what the “it” was, but the woman’s reaction reveals her concern that Scott was placing himself in danger. He was, based on the video images. What can be seen clearly from the dashboard camera is that Scott exited his car and was backing away from it with his hands at his sides, but what, if anything, he had in his hands cannot be seen in either police video. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department released body and dash-cam videos of the fatal police shooting of Keith Scott. Chief Putney said while the videos show no “absolute, definitive visual evidence” that the 43-year-old black man had a gun in his hand, other evidence from the scene does prove it.

What started this encounter? Chief Putney said that Scott drew the attention of officers who were trying to serve an arrest warrant on an unrelated suspect at the apartment complex where he was because they saw him rolling marijuana in his vehicle. Police were going to continue on their original mission until an officer spotted a weapon in the vehicle, Chief Putney said. “It was not lawful for him to possess a firearm,” Putney said. “There was a crime he committed and the gun exacerbated the situation.”

Chief Putney said there is more information which includes accounts from officers at the scene, forensics and interviews with witnesses. He said he has found nothing to indicate that the police officer acted inappropriately, given the totality of the circumstances, and he does not think his officers broke the law that day. They were, he said, reacting to what appeared to be an imminent threat. “At every encounter, people can make a decision to follow lawful, loud verbal commands and avert some things like this,” he said.

Conclusions

In summary, police officers are trying to do the jobs they are trained to perform in a dynamic, complex environment. They are under a great deal of stress and pressure to make proper, instantaneous life-and-death decisions about using deadly force or not in unique situations. There lives are at stake, in addition to the lives of others. There is much situational uncertainty and people are unique with their own motivations, behaviors, interpretations, and responses to the same event. People behave in ways that make sense to themselves, not knowing what they do not know, while influenced by uncontrollable and controllable factors. What is reasonable to one is not reasonable to another. Laws exist and must be enforced. If people disagree with existing laws and procedures, the correct established channel should be followed to peacefully and calmly resolve the differences, which is not on the street in the mist of a fluid and dangerous situation. The solution is not to overturn and torch cars and loot stores in infantile, irrational, and emotional behavior to make a point. It is imperative that we all respect police officers doing their jobs to maintain peace and that we comply with their reasonable and lawful commands and directions. If we disagree, sort it out later, hopefully in an orderly process. Avoid instantaneous encounters on the street if at all possible, since that is not the place to analyze and determine complex objectives, disagree or interpret facts, exhibit disrespectful or aggressive behaviors, and decide unclear motives and facts. Understanding the need to develop and practice the proper respect for law enforcement officers, and to not debate on the street the lawful commands of officers who have the power to protect themselves in a life-threatening or great bodily injury situation, is critically important for everyone involved. A logical, rational, non emotional, orderly response to an uncertain and spontaneous situation with many variables is best for everyone. Avoid confrontations, but be prepared just in case.

Peace and Be Safe!

Photos by Author.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

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  • ImOffendedTreatMeSpecial

    Clean up the language and drop the part about having a white friend and the Chris Rock video How not to get your ass kicked by the police should be shown in every high school.

    • denny004

      why drop the part about having a white friend?

      • Imagine if kids went to school and obeyed their parents curfew.

  • Luis Arzola

    For the record, the videos and still pictures of Keith Scott’s shooting clearly show that one of his pants legs is pulled up, and underneath what appears to be an ankle holster. That is strong evidence that Mr. Scott was indeed armed and failed to follow the officers instructions to drop his gun.

    Other facts not usually mentioned: the shooting officer was also African-American, and the officers tried their best to save Mr. Scott’s life as seen in the videos of the aftermath of the shooting. Mr. Scott was also a felon who by law was prohibited from having firearms, much less carry a firearm concealed in an ankle holster.

    I can understand on people being upset at a policeman shooting an unarmed man (as happened recently in South Carolina where a policeman shot a fleeing suspect in the back), but there is no excuse to riot when an armed convicted felon is killed for failing to obey police commands.

  • Still, there are times when cops make mistakes and even rarer, when they do something bad intentionally. It would go a long way repairing public perception if in cases like these that we don’t fall for the benefit of the doubt method of judgement. Why hold someone with that kind of power and authority to a lower standard? It doesn’t happen as often as some allege, but perception is reality and I would also take that point with police perception with regards to using deadly force. No matter how we use the term reasonable, it’s still an individual’s perception. The reality is what the officer does in response to his or her perception.

    I don’t know. One of my grandfathers was a cop as was one of his sons. I even dated a NYPD cop once upon a time. Much different than todays cops and different times too. I think there’s a lot more nuance and culture on either side of these issues that never gets discussed honestly by either side and because of that, I don’t think it will be easy to find a solution to anti-police vibe that’s around now and I haven’t even touched on the militarization of police in the last 15 years too, which I think has changed the mindset/culture somewhat. Also, Making commercials/videos for the NRA stating “we won’t change” is not going to fix this and shows a belief that only one side is at fault and that self-examination isn’t necessary. The only time I see one sided relationships is when people talk to the dead or someone having a delusional conversation. In this case it’s confirmation bias and motivating reasoning at best. On the other hand, regardless of what someone on the other end of it thinks about police and authority, there are certain realities when dealing with police that should be more than considered. It is what it is until it isn’t. Perpetuating that all police are bad isn’t productive either and the reluctance and reticence is going to police for help with the dirt baggery needs to stop if they want to move forward. Unfortunately, sometimes, a lot of times, people involved in a conflict or contentious relationship seem to prefer the conflict to a solution because of, IMO, the positive feedback mechanism that reinforces the narratives either side believes. The root of this is one of my axioms about human nature: Most people want to be right all the time. Anyway, that’s my take on it.

    • Clark Kent

      There is has been no ‘militarization’ of the police. Go on a few ‘ride alongs’ with your local police department and catch a clue about the bargain basement ‘low bid’ crapola equipment they are forced to work with. By the way, three elements have to be present to justify the use of deadly force. Ability (does the suspect have the ability to inflict death or serious bodily harm?). Opportunity (can the suspect carry out the infliction of death or serious bodily harm?). Jeopardy (does a reasonable person believe that death or serious bodily harm is imminent?). Feel free to become a police officer and show us all how it SHOULD be done. Put up or shut up.

      • and read a book by Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop and check out the website Filming Cops.

      • TexasJester

        Well, let’s see .. SWAT teams practicing with Special Forces, learning those tactics. SWAT dressing in military gear, looking like they’re going to engage ISIS in Iraq. Police forces aquiring MRAP armored vehicles, complete with M60 .50cal machine guns mounted. (My Texas county has one – and there’s been a LOT of controversy about it, and we are a rural county, with a low crime rate!)

        Add this to every law enforcement agency, from local to federal, setting up special weapons and tactics squads – and even NON-law-enforcement agencies doing so. Why would the Social Security Administration need such a team? Or NASA? Department of Education? Most alphabet agencies now have such a team.

        Maybe the beat cops aren’t militarized (yet), but that doesn’t mean the departments aren’t.

  • Anthony

    We hear that there is an absence of dialogue other than to cast blame. But I am just blown away when I hear many African-Americans on TV and radio exclaim their anger towards the cops, and making statements that African-Americans don’t need to listen to or follow orders from nobody, including police officers. Seemingly, the message is: there is no authority but one’s self. Also, there is an implication that as an African-American, racism is so institutionalized, so a part of American culture, that any interaction a black man in America has with any authority figure automatically is seen as rascist, unjust, and intolerable for that black man. I’ve heard this sentiment on Sean Hannity’s radio show, and elsewhere, where black guests are attempting to make excuses for the victims who refused to follow the officer’s direct orders and ended up getting shot. The claim that the officer’s had no justification to detain or arrest the “victim” and was therefore NOT giving a lawful order… thus, the victim was killed for no good reason. How can you have a dialogue with people who believe institutional racism is so ingrained that no orders by police officers given to a black man is lawful? Yet, there it is. This is why even a black police officer is no different than a white police officer when a black man is shot. The black police officer doesn’t realize he too is part of the racist problem against the black man, and is seen by BLM as just another evil white devil cop (enforcer for the cultural racism that permeates all of America today), “uncle Tom”, or turncoat.

    • denny004

      I’ve never a black person say that before. Most black people tell their children the opposite. “be polite” say “sir”. you need to stop getting your information from Facebook and twitter.

      • The parents might, but others in their life may do otherwise. In the best of circumstances, kids don’t always do what their parents tell them to do. Peer pressure is often a greater influence.

      • TexasJester

        All you have to do is listen to a BlackLivesMatter rally, and hear what’s being said. There was a “rally” in Baltimore, marching up the street, with one person with a bullhorn asking “what do we want?” The crowd responds “DEAD COPS!!” Bullhorn asks “when do we want it??” Crowd – “NOW!!!”.. This was all over the media, including the left-wing mass media, not just Facebook.

        You need to do a bit more research – or at least take your head out of the sand – before making such inane statements…

        • denny004

          I’ve been black all of my life. I don’t have to research sh!t. I know black people in person and not on Facebook and Twitter. We don’t teach our kids that. You need to sit down and talk to real people…retard!!!

          • TexasJester

            Then you’re in the minority (no pun intended) of the black people – and you are an exception that proves the rule.
            I’ll agree – most black people aren’t like this, but there’s enough to be a stereotype. And those are the ones with the agenda, the looting, the rioting, the killing cops, the thugs that get shot.
            I’m a long-haul truck driver, and we have a couple of customers in the “bad” parts of Chicago – and I was at one today. An older white guy in a bad black neighborhood in a truck – not the safest thing to do. After I got to the customer (off Cicero and Jefferson, just south of I-290), we found out that not long after I went through there, another truck got stopped, and the young white driver was attacked by black thugs.
            In Detroit, it has gotten so dangerous for us that my company has ended the contracts with customers there. Same thing with Baltimore.
            It’s not retarded, it’s not racist, it’s realism. I keep my doors locked ALL THE TIME, just so someone cannot get in my cab. And in rough looking neighborhoods, especially minority ones, I’m extra vigilant. Situational awareness.

  • denny004

    so what does looting people have to do with this article.

    • Nothing really. I mean, I don’t see the looters getting shot by anyone. It’s usually some other sad sack.

      • Clark Kent

        You meant to say ‘guilty sack” (of sh*t)….

      • Col Ben

        Looting and burning cars are not the answers nor proper response to any problem, like anyone getting shot by anyone.

        • My point is that if someone came to loot and burn what I worked all my life for, I might defend it. I don’t see it happen. Maybe the insurance covers everything and it’s not a big deal, but I would bet if some of the idiots that loot, most of them, if they suffered some attrition would stop being professional looters.

  • TexasJester

    As a truck driver, I have frequent interactions with law enforcement, from the local to the federal level. Most of the time it’s within the scope of my job, such as talking to the DOT (Dept of Transportation) officers at the state scale houses. Other times, it’s in reference to a motorist complaint (real or imagined), as a witness, or a victim.

    The first thing I try to do is put the officer at ease, that I’m not a threat – I’ve even asked the officer if he wanted to check me for weapons. I try not to be difficult or argumentative – even if I feel I’m being badly treated. (Take the ticket, and take it to court – the citation is NOT an admission of guilt, just that the officer thinks you’ve done something wrong.)

    If the officer is aiming a gun at you and telling you to get on the ground, GET ON THE GROUND!! Don’t resist, and obey all commands. Whether or not you’re doing anything wrong, he has the gun, and it’s best to comply. There are times that after a bit of investigation, you’ll go free with an apology – but if you stand there and argue, you might wind up tasered or shot – and you won’t be going free! At best, you’ll be at the hospital then in jail; at worst, you’ll be in the morgue. If you go along, you’ll get your day in court.

    If it’s a non-violent confrontation, and you feel you need to argue, do so respectfully, and don’t raise your voice or gesticulate wildly. If you see you aren’t getting through and are losing the argument, back down and take the ticket – then go to court.

    If you’ve done the thing the police are accusing you of doing, take your lumps (ticket) and pay it. If it’s something worse and you’re going to jail, well – if you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime…. If you go along peacefully, there are times the police will agree or charge with a lesser crime, that might get you probation instead of incarceration.

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