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    On shooting fleeing suspects

    On shooting fleeing suspects

    Not so fast.

    The killing of Walter Scott by Officer MIchael Slager was caught on video, leaving no doubt that he was shot in the back while fleeing from a traffic stop. A commenter on my blog asked whether the hue and cry that has resulted means that “if you can run away from a cop, you can get away with any crime because any effort to stop your pursuit using a weapon is unlawful and wrong?”

    No, but unless some very unusual mitigating information emerges, this was too much firepower considering the offense and the situation surrounding it.

    But don’t take my word for it; here are the rules:

    The Supreme Court held in a 1989 case, Graham v. Connor, that the appropriateness of use of force by officers “must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene,” rather than evaluated through 20/20 hindsight.

    That standard is designed to take into account that police officers are frequently asked to make split-second decisions during fast-evolving confrontations, and should not be subject to overly harsh second guessing…

    A seminal 1985 Supreme Court case, Tennessee vs. Garner, held that the police may not shoot at a fleeing person unless the officer reasonably believes that the individual poses a significant physical danger to the officer or others in the community. That means officers are expected to take other, less-deadly action during a foot or car pursuit unless the person being chased is seen as an immediate safety risk.

    In other words, a police officer who fires at a fleeing man who a moment earlier murdered a convenience store clerk may have reasonable grounds to argue that the shooting was justified. But if that same robber never fired his own weapon, the officer would likely have a much harder argument.

    “You don’t shoot fleeing felons. You apprehend them unless there are exigent circumstances — emergencies — that require urgent police action to safeguard the community as a whole,” said Greg Gilbertson, a police practices expert and criminal justice professor at Centralia College in Washington state.

    That’s the reason the condemnation of Slager was strong from all quarters, including from police.

    Police always have to make split-second judgment calls, and that can be extremely difficult. It’s part of the job, however; they should not be hampered from doing their job, but neither are they given carte blanche to be trigger-happy.

    You can tell people to never fight or struggle with an officer, and not to defy him or mouth off. Wait till you get a lawyer and have the lawyer defy him and mouth off, if necessary. That’s common sense and good advice. But a lot of people, especially those who are in any sort of trouble with the law (including relatively minor trouble, such as Scott’s) are going to try to flee. You don’t want cops killing them all. There are ways to determine when it is okay to shoot and when it is not okay to shoot, and unless there are some huge surprise revelations in this case, it should have been a “not okay to shoot” case.

    Slager may have shown awareness of this when he—as has been reported—appears to drop something near Scott’s body in the video, after the shooting. If he was planting evidence (the taser?), it indicates a possible awareness of guilt and attempt at a coverup.

    [Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]


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    How about this for an elephant in the room, Mr. Slager getting hit by his own taser? Did anyone see the pic of him with another LEO with his one trouser leg rolled up? I doubt he was just flashing. The why behind Mr. Scott fleeing seems less important to me than if he had the taser, used it then ran. Hopefully we will get to hear somehow, or get professional analysis of those “damning” videos.

    Char Char Binks | April 12, 2015 at 11:33 pm

    Santana lied! Scott assaulted Officer Slager, stole his taser, and tased him. Slager is a hero!

      The only people I see making that claim are the Conservative Nuthouse gang. SMH.

      In any case, if Slager had been tased, why did he not mention it… to anyone? Not while it was happening, not in its immediate aftermath, and not in the discussion he had later as he discusses what will happen next with a senior officer. He stuck to his story: “He grabbed my taser, yeah [the one he later appears to have planted on his dead body]. Yeah, he was running from me.” If he had been tased, don’t you think he might have mentioned that?

      And even if he had been, it still wouldn’t justify him unloading his weapon into Scott’s back as he was running away. If he had shot him while the struggle was going on, sure, I can see that. As with Zimmerman, you’re allowed to use deadly force in the face of imminent threat of death or great bodily injury. But just as Zimmerman would have been guilty of murder if he waited till Martin dismounted him and started running away (and thus was no longer an imminent threat) and then shot him in the back; so too is Slager in the same boat. Once the person disengages, retreats and is no longer a threat, you’re not allowed to execute him, no matter how ticked off you are.

      And then, of course, there’s still the consciousness of guilt problem. If Slager were truly of the mind that it was a righteous shoot, why did he feel the need to alter the crime scene by dropping an object (ostensibly the taser) on the ground next to the guy he just killed?

      There is a weird Cult of Slager forming, and though I’m not of the general belief that Slager was a racist who killed this guy just because he was black; from seeing some of the racist comments made about Scott, the (black) videographer, and other blacks involved in this, I do believe there is racism involved in wanting so badly for Slager to be the Great White* Hero [*intentional], and Scott to have been just another “hood-rat” and “black thug” who needed to be “put down”, and isn’t the world a better place for it.

      You guys can demonize Scott all you want, but unless you can show how an unarmed 50-year-old man running away from a police officer is such an imminent threat to either the officer or the public at large that he requires immediate extra-judicial execution, Slager is still not the great white hero y’all are looking for.

        amwick in reply to Amy in FL. | April 13, 2015 at 11:24 am

        Slager does not seem to be a racist murdering cop either. Not a hero, not a villain, just a guy with a difficult and dangerous job. What happened to that innocent until proven guilty stuff? I have to believe people who are actual lawyers are waiting for more facts to be presented. I know they are here someplace.

          I didn’t say he was a “racist murdering cop either.” I specifically said I didn’t think he was. I said the only racism I’ve seen is from some of his defenders, some of the people bound and determined to make him their Great White Black-Thug-Exterminatin’-Hero.

          Okay. Here’s a guy who’s an actual lawyer: Professor Alan Dershowitz of Harvard Law School.

          He, like I, believes that the evidence so far shows that Slager was a bad cop who was clearly in the wrong here. And he, too, like I, doesn’t believe that Slager’s execution of Scott necessarily translates into a demonstration of racism on Slager’s part.

          The officer may have been angry with Scott, for trying to grab his taser—if that is indeed what Scott did. He may even have been frightened, though the video does not suggest fear on the part of the officer, as he methodically shot Scott in the back as he was running away. It suggests that the officer was trying to prevent Scott from fleeing. If Scott had, in fact, assaulted Officer Slager and had tried to grab his taser, then the officer may have had reasonable grounds for arresting Scott for more serious crimes of violence, such as assaulting a police officer and resisting arrest. But that would still not justify shooting Scott in the back to stop him from fleeing such an arrest, since the constitutional criterion for the use of deadly force requires a reasonable fear of imminent serious harm to the officer or the public. The video clearly shows that this standard was not met. But it doesn’t necessarily show that Officer Slager’s unauthorized use of deadly force was motivated by racism. A considerable number of white people have been unlawfully shot by police who were angered by the disrespect and contempt shown them by arrest resisters. This does not, of course, justify any unlawful resort to deadly force, but it does provide a plausible non-racist explanation for Officer Slager’s apparently unlawful response.

          And yes, of course more facts will be presented at the actual trial. Slager should absolutely be accorded a fair trial — something neither he nor many of his defenders think Walter Scott deserved. All I’ve been trying to do is to head off a few of the false “facts” that the Slageristas keep trying to insert into the narrative.

            amwick in reply to Amy in FL. | April 13, 2015 at 2:23 pm

            Facts will be presented at the trail, if this goes past a Grand Jury… and I know about the poor ham sandwich and what a prosecutor can do… but the Grand Jury is still a wild card.

            heyjoojoo in reply to Amy in FL. | April 13, 2015 at 6:35 pm

            I see racist commenters too. The ones who tend to always “blame the white officer” versus the ones who do not. It is sickening.

        Char Char Binks in reply to Amy in FL. | April 13, 2015 at 12:19 pm

        I never wanted Slager to be a hero, but the evidence is pointing that way. Scott wasn’t an “unarmed 50-year-old man running away from a police officer”. He doesnt get to be called “unarmed” when he grabbed the officer’s weapon and used it against him. The video shows Scott on the ground fighting Slager WHILE ON TOP. Slager is the only one who got tased, and that happened a split second before he duly shot Scott. He couldn’t pursue him, because he’d just been tased. Scott was a dangerous, fleeing felon, who got more than he bargained for.

          Slager is the only one who got tased, and that happened a split second before he duly shot Scott.

          Evidence? And please don’t quote the people whose speculation has already been wrong as to so many aspects of this case.

            Also, and I’m tired of pointing this out, if he wasn’t “unarmed”, why did An Hero Slager have to plant a weapon on him…?

            amwick in reply to Amy in FL. | April 13, 2015 at 2:17 pm

            and the planted weapon was?? You forgot to mention that he also planted dna and fingerprints.. I mean he would have to do that right? What good is a drop without fingerprints?? Now if the taser comes back clean, with no Scott fingerprints, then it looks bad..

            Char Char Binks in reply to Amy in FL. | April 13, 2015 at 3:50 pm

            Santana’s video shows them fighting on the ground, with Scott on top, even though his story is that Slager was in control the entire time. I’d hardly call being on the bottom in a street fight being “in control”. That’s in the video, as are the wires seemingly connected to Slager’s leg and/or torso. The video never once shows Slager with the taser in his hand. If he had been tased, he wouldn’t have been able to pursue Scott on foot, and it would also mean Scott was in commission of of a violent felony, making him a perfectly acceptable target.

            Scott wasn’t “in commission of of a violent felony” when Slager executed him. He was running away, unarmed.

    heyjoojoo | April 13, 2015 at 1:47 pm

    Seems like the rumor regarding “planting evidence with the taser” has been grabbing traction. Is there any word on what was dropped next to the subject’s body?

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